By Alain Bollack, Director, EY.

With a US$18.8 trillion investment to make in infrastructure over the next 20 years, which will inevitably end up on customer bills, utility companies need to demonstrate that they can deliver both value and service. Failure will result in public backlash, as already seen in Bulgaria, and loss of high-margin customers to new market entrants. Building relationships is, therefore, a very serious matter.

Banks, supermarkets, telecoms companies have all been down the customer relationship-building route with varying degrees of success. But do customers really care who supplies their energy as long as it is available on demand and does not cost the earth? It turns out that they do. In surveys, utilities typically lag behind other sectors in terms of customer satisfaction and are perceived as faceless machines that prioritise profit over quality service and value for money.

The reality is that utility businesses are steeped in legacy practices and behaviours. They are good at selling energy, but not so good at ancillary matters like customer attentiveness, responsiveness and the delivery of value-add services that can make the difference between a mediocre and a great relationship.

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