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Improving the customer experience to increase customer retention

Competition in the utility sector is fierce. Since privatisation in the early 1990’s, the number of energy suppliers in the UK has grown significantly and with only a limited scope for product differentiation, providers are often selected solely on price, meaning that operational efficiency and customer loyalty are critical components when it comes to profitable business growth.

Whilst operational efficiency is more of a challenge for the big 6 energy providers, due mainly to legacy infrastructure and systems, customer loyalty for all providers can be earned through providing an exceptional customer experience. From onboarding to meter reading, billing to service issue resolution, all providers have the opportunity to deliver a customer experience that will allow for the creation of brand advocates and breed loyalty. Or conversely, upset and alienate customers who will be more than happy to share their stories online across social media and review sites.

Consumers take energy for granted - they flick a switch and regardless of their provider, the light comes on, so it’s never been more important to have strong, positive and regular engagement with your customers so that by the time renewals are due, the choice is much easier.

Customer experience

To tackle this challenge for utility companies’ clients, need to map their customer journey in detail, identifying all touch-points and any missed opportunities to engage with useful, meaningful communications. Removing friction in this journey is key to ensuring a seamless customer experience.

It would be easy to assume a customer you haven’t heard from is a happy customer, but this isn’t always the case. We proactively look for ways to add value to customers through the utilisation of data, which is becoming an increasingly rich source of intelligence following the introduction of smart meters.

Smart meters provide hitherto unseen insights into usage, which allow companies to personalise content around individual households. Using this real time data, providers can deliver tailored communications around energy saving tips, or offer promotions etc., meaning that generic, vanilla communications can be a thing of the past and consumers feel they are valued - this could be the difference between switching or sticking. At Adare SEC, we appreciate and fully understand the importance of this seamless customer experience and as consumer digital adoption has increased, so has our own capability to deliver true integrated multi-channel, communications.

So, while print was traditionally the channel of choice for providers, now, using sophisticated AI and automation, personalised messages can be triggered, created and sent across a range of channels from SMS and email to app push notifications and even as part of a two-way text engagement using the latest messaging apps.

Data Driven

As smart meters transform how consumers view their energy consumption, energy providers can also transform how they communicate the cost of this energy and even more-so with the potential of moving into real time billing and balances. This level of data means automation using complex business rules is a critical element of customer communication strategies and channels that were once in silo, now need to be linked. As, if a customer could be reading a paper document one minute, logging into an app the next and then receiving a text in the same customer journey, the ability to orchestrate a seamless switch is essential.

It is important to focus on the delivery of this orchestration and as experts in integrated communications help our clients to engage with customers to create a relationship that isn’t exclusively based on price. Our platform and our expertise in deploying it, allow our clients to engage their customers on all channels and with customer communications now split between transactional and marketing teams, it is becoming more important than ever to ensure that all teams can work in harmony to deliver messages that are timely and appropriate.

For example, the marketing team want to tell all customers about a new tariff or offer and set about creating a communication and send this via the channel of preference. On the same day this lands, a number of customers also receive reminder letters or escalation letters for outstanding debt, leading to confusion and a general feeling that one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing. This may seem like a simple enough problem to solve but our experience suggests otherwise. Marketing and operations can and often do operate in silos and often use different datasets. But, by utilising a central communications platform, you can suppress delivery based upon pre-defined business rules and ensure customers receive only those messages that are appropriate to them at any given time. This saves money, reduces confusion for customers and is easier to manage internally as part of a wider communications strategy.

Debt in the Energy Sector

Debt collection remains a key challenge for utility companies. According to research by uSwitch, only last year, over 3m households owe a total of £400m to their energy supplier demonstrating that it is absolutely critical to have an effective communications platform that maximises engagement with this customer group.

The Water industry is even harder hit where it’s estimated that bad debt currently adds approximately £21 annually to each customer’s bill.

Ofwat’s own guidance to suppliers include clear recommendations that focus on a) better customer communication and b) improving the use of customer data to anticipate and deal with debt before it becomes insurmountable for customers. This could just as easily be applied to energy customers.

These two components are clearly linked so the ability to create personalised communications across the most appropriate channels will serve as a huge step in the right direction for most utility companies. Adare can provide the platform that bridges that gap between the efficient use of customer data and the fulfilment of timely and meaningful communications to those customers who need them most.

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