In a world where amazing products and services are available at the tap of an app, it’s easy to see technology as a silver bullet for your corporate challenges, says Oliver Disney, 383’s commercial director.

From the endless choices offered by Amazon to the clickand-ride magic of summoning an Uber, it’s only logical to equate innovation and success with digital bells and whistles. However, it’s not the algorithms and interfaces that really make these brands success stories – it’s the deep understanding of the customer pains and desires underpinning them. Monzo aren’t revolutionising finance because they’ve got a shiny app, it’s because they understand how and why people think that traditional banking sucks.

This article was originally published in Smart Energy International 5-2019. Read the full digimag here or subscribe to receive a print copy here.

For players within the utilities sector, customer experience is about to become the new battleground. The explosion of comparison tools, deal-hunting AIs and switching services means that it’s now easier than ever for consumers to find great deals and capitalise on them with minimum friction.

This means that low prices and great deals are no longer differentiators they are merely table stakes for anyone wanting to blip on their customers’ radar.

So how can you stand out from the crowd when everyone’s tripping over themselves to offer cheaper deals?

How well do you know your customers?

The answer lies in figuring out how to provide genuine and distinctive value to your customers beyond a bargain-basement price. And to do this, you have to invest time in figuring out what really makes them tick.

We recently conducted some research into the needs and attitudes of UK utilities’ consumers, and it turned out that they are not as disloyal as some media might have us think. Instead of the price-driven, tech-hungry shoppers that we’ve been conditioned to expect by the switching revolution, it turns out real people are far more complex and savvy than that.

It’s not fancy smartphone apps, social media activity or even competitive pricing that emerge as the primary drivers of loyalty. It’s about getting the customer service basics right. People want consistency, simplicity, transparency and fairness. They expect great customer service that provides answers quickly and solves their problems fast.

But what about price, you ask? Well, an attractive price point may get customers through your door but if you fail to meet their expectations once they’re inside they’ll head straight back out again in search of someone who will.

The death of the one-size-fits-all solution

As well as highlighting some of the common themes valued by your billpaying consumers, our research also shows just how much their individual needs and expectations differ.

This is particularly evident along generational lines where we see younger consumers preferring propositions that promise:

  • instant gratification
  • digital convenience on-the-go
  • delivery of solutions to come from brands with strong social ethics at their core.

Meanwhile, older customers place more weight behind getting a good deal and being rewarded for their loyalty.

This insight is absolutely crucial as it really hammers home the reality that a one-size-fits-all approach to customer experience simply won’t cut it anymore. When choice is ubiquitous and personalisation has become the norm, people can and will seek solutions that fit their specific needs rather than accepting compromises or propositions that are simply ‘good enough’.

Instead, by understanding your customers’ diverse personalities and motivations, you can begin to build tailored products that really resonate with them. What’s more, by seeking to understand their specific needs you can develop solutions that not only meet their expectations but also exceed them. I mean, who would have guessed that there was even a market for vegan energy until Ecotricity made it their own?

What’s my next move?

So how can you embrace this customercentric path to enlightenment? Simple: You need to really get to know the people who buy your stuff.

Listen: Find effective ways to talk to customers and to really listen to what they have to say.

Learn: You need to learn to ask the right questions that don’t just reveal their opinions of your products but the underlying problems they’re trying to solve through using them. It’s about learning what they really want, not what you think they want.

Think: Sometimes the problems and solutions might be multi-layered or can present new opportunities to surprise and delight. Imagine, for instance, a customer who’s frustrated that they can’t get hold of someone to fix a problem at 11pm because they works shifts and the call centre is closed. Is 24/7 phone support the answer? Maybe. But there are different ways to tackle that challenge too.

Solve: How about providing that customer with some nifty self-service tools so they can sort the problem themselves? How about creating a chatbot that can hold their hand through the process whilst also giving the option to talk to a human if they want to? What if, whilst we were solving their problems, we could instantly recommend alternative products or bolt-ons better suited to their needs and could give them the option to switch then and there? The result would be a happier customer, a lower cost-to-serve and a stickier product that was more likely to generate brand loyalty.

As you can see from the example digital innovation can absolutely play a central role in your customer propositions. The crucial thing is that the technological solutions you offer are born out of a genuine user need.

Above all else, deep customer insight will enable you to shape your direction of travel and prioritise the products and features you need to develop. The task then is to:

  • be brave
  • move fast
  • get tangible products into the hands of your customers as fast as possible.

Pick up your pace, but not for the sake of it

Speed to market really is the secret here if you want to build and protect your competitive advantage. The pace of change in the consumer landscape has accelerated to the point that you can no longer afford to spend large amounts of time and money on perfecting products through extensive R&D processes or by ‘business-casing them to death’. By the time you launch, you’ll already have missed your window.

Instead, a more agile and experimental approach is needed. Gather your insights, develop a hunch, build a rough prototype to test out your theory and then get it into the hands of your customers to see if it flies. Learn from your findings, adjust your approach and keep going around the cycle until you get to the answer.

Ultimately, digital transformation should never be about jumping on the latest, shiniest technology for the sake of it. Instead it’s about using the right digital tools to fix the fundamentally human problems your customers are trying to overcome.

By remembering that there’s a person at the other end of that tariff and by investing time to empathise with them, you have a brilliant opportunity to attract loyal and engaged customers.

At the very least, it should give you a fighting chance against those armies of mercenary, deal-hunting robots who are out to steal your lunch. SEI

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Oliver (Ollie) Disney is commercial director at 383. With over 15 years’ experience in brand, advertising, retail and CX, Ollie heads up commercial operations for 383, a digital studio using the best people to create and make the right experiences for their clients.