Utilities – how digital do your customers feel?

Using traditional communication models will heavily restrict utilities’ interactions with customers, states energy tech and consulting firm IBM.

The US-based corporation states that the restriction will in turn limit customer satisfaction and improved operations due to a lack of insight into customer demands and real time grid operations.

IBM asserts that traditional modes of interactions such as bill inserts and broadcast media increase operational costs as they increase the sectors that a utility needs to invest in.

Benefits of digital customer engagement

On the other hand, investing in modern customer engagement platforms such as social media, websites, blogs, metering and transaction systems will limit customer churn as they allow a utility a personalised relationship with a consumer resulting in satisfaction through the provision of ‘the right product to the right customer and at the right time’.

[quote] Modern interactions provided by smart metering systems will offer utilities real time insights on how consumers are using their energy as well as provide a platform to implement energy efficiency and demand response measures to reduce consumers’ energy costs and enhance grid reliability.

According to the company, to date, the utility-customer interaction sector is characterised by themes including adaptation to energy industry trends, changes in customer perceptions and power consumption, and changes in customer engagement tools.

To highlight consumers’ growing demand for digital services, a survey carried out by IBM research found that 57% of customers will not recommend a business with a poorly designed mobile site to their peers and 54% would consider ending a relationship with a retailer if they are not given personalised content and offers.

Trends in customer engagement

Taking this into consideration, customers demand for mobile app services is expected to increase with the consumer technology market research firm International Data Corporation (IDC) predicting that by 2018, the number of mobile users will grow by 50%.

The growth in the usage of mobile apps is also expected to bring an opportunity for improved utility-customer engagement and real time grid management.

To help utilities improve their businesses through digitalising their operations to meet up with changes in customer needs, IBM drafted a whitepaper ‘The Digital Customer: Engage Customers as Individuals’.

The report states that utilities need to move to more of a self-service economy in which they are able to communicate with consumers in real time using platforms such as mobile devices, chat, websites or a live call center.

The paper states that each channel should provide the same level of service and enable a customer to easily move from one channel to another.

At the same time, the platforms should meet or exceed customer expectations by maintaining consistency, quick answers and seamless interactions. By digitising services, utilities also need to offer customers the option to be prosumers and sell electricity back to the grid.

The report also found that only 20% of global utilities’ websites allow users to monitor their energy usage and only 26% of US electric utilities have mobile applications and functions.

The firm reiterates shifting to digital customer interaction will allow a utility to take advantage of real time network demands through data analytics.

Image credit: www.ibm.com.

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Nicholas Nhede is an experienced energy sector writer based in Clarion Event's Cape Town office. He has been writing for Smart Energy International’s print and online media platforms since 2015, on topics including metering, smart grids, renewable energy, the Internet of Things, distributed energy resources and smart cities. Originally from Zimbabwe, Nicholas holds a diploma in Journalism and Communication Studies. Nicholas has a passion for how technology can be used to accelerate the energy transition and combat climate change.