Thought leadership

Utilities are such a natural part of our lives that we use them without even thinking about it – whether its electricity, gas, water, or even your phone – that is, until something goes wrong. With hundreds of thousands of customers switching utilities companies it’s more important now than ever before that providers make sure they’re getting their service right. Errors in bill estimations, inaccurate communication from providers and even poor re-assessment of payment plans mean that consumer confidence in the utilities sector is at an all-time low.

This discontent should be a significant concern for utility companies. After all, UK consumers are lucky enough to have a choice in the provider they use – and, are more than happy to exert this choice. From October 2013 to March 2014, more than two million people in the UK alone switched energy supplier. This shows how quickly consumers can move away from a provider and just how much organisations could lose if they don’t get their service right. Add to this, a recent report showing that poor customer service cost US companies over $41 billion in 2013 alone, it’s apparent just how much is at stake if something isn’t done quickly to change consumer attitudes towards the sector.   

However, getting customer service up to scratch can actually be quite simple. If you follow the right processes it will go a long way to garnering a consumer’s trust and turning them, not only into a loyal customer, but perhaps even a brand advocate. From my perspective, a utility company that wants to get customer service right needs to work with a number of business partners and invest in a three-step approach to mastering the art of customer service. This involves Value Stream Mapping to get the right systems in place, smart use of customer data and deploying a social media programme to actually engage with customers – moving away from just talking at them! If you can master these three steps, then you’re going a long way to building the kind of relationships with consumers that will ensure customer loyalty.  Here’s how to tackle each step:

1.       Make the Most of Value Stream Mapping

Most of the companies still rely old IT systems and processes that often limit the ability to be agile and deliver flawless customer service. If an organization really wants to improve its interaction with customers, then Value Stream Mapping will help them to get a broader sense of the business and how it works. It can show the effectiveness of various channels and pinpoint exactly where improvements are made to customer service. If you strategically map out these existing processes then you’ll get clear insight into the best ways to streamline workflow and deliver integration between sales, customer management, billing and other functions. Integrating customer feedback from all channels into analytical models can deliver new insights into the customer experience.

2.       Make Smart Use of Your Customer Data 

Making smart use of customer data is an imperative now for any organization to sustain today. But, still there number of organizations that are facing a challenge to handle and make efficient business use of the customer data. Once you’ve gone through the Value Stream Mapping process, follow up by focusing on your data. After all, a utility provider has a goldmine of customer information that they should be analysing to get to know their customers. This could be anything from whether they prefer to receive their bills via email or by post, to which time of the day they prefer to be contacted. Using your data proactively can counter for a lot of small customer bugbears. For instance, if a customer is already using one of your services, then they probably won’t be very impressed when you send them a flyer or try to call them to advertise that specific service. Maximising your customer data will help you understand which contracts you have with which customers and identify opportunities to up-sell the right services to fit their needs.  It seems simple, but understanding these nuances about your customers will go a long way to helping you build a strong and long-term relationship.

3.       Use Social Media to Engage with Customers

With almost every second Internet user in the UK using social networks every day, utility companies need to incorporate social media in to their customer service mix to engage more effectively. This means a dedicated team who can actually interact with customers, rather than just issuing a series of pre-programmed tweets as an extended advertising strategy. Many companies don’t have the resource to be able to do this internally, so increasingly organisations are partnering with business process management (BPM) companies who have a strong track record in this space to ensure they’re getting their social media strategy right. Mature BPM solutions don’t just enhance online brand reputation and participation in social conversations, but also offer a way for customers to connect more closely with the brand, and get quick responses to their queries. By using social media platforms, utility companies can benefit from immediate and long-term revenue opportunities, as well as recover customers, manage lead generation, track and manage influencers, and a whole host of other benefits.

The interchangeable nature of the utilities sector means that organisations have to focus far more on their levels of customer service perhaps more than any other. Instances of dissatisfaction need to be countered and consumer confidence in the industry can easily be restored. Fundamentally though, more investment is needed into understanding the entire customer base in order to put insights at the heart of every engagement.  


Keshav R. Murugesh is Group CEO, WNS and Chairman, NASSCOM BPM Council, India

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