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Could customer service be far more than a utility?

Utilities around the globe are working to shift from commodity provider to trusted energy advisor. This transformation hinges on an energy provider’s ability to go beyond traditional, transactional service. It requires a deep understanding of customers—and the ability to engage based on those insights. We’ve been talking and writing about this journey to trusted energy advisor for quite a few years. I’m just as passionate about it today as I was when the opportunity first emerged. That’s why I’m particularly interested in the findings of the Accenture End-to-Endless Customer Service study—global cross-industry research that spans multiple industries and studies both B2C and B2B customers.

The top-level findings affirm that about one in five cross-industry organizations—and 15% of utilities—no longer manage their customer service function as an efficiency-driven, troubleshooting-focused cost center. Instead, these organizations fully view customer service as a value creator. They are embedding service skills and capabilities throughout the front office, transforming service from reactive (“something broke”) to regenerative (“here’s how we can improve this offering”).


Their approach is paying off, as these same cross-industry organizations are achieving 3.5X more revenue growth while spending an average of only 50 basis points more on service. Among utilities, the increase in spending averages 60 basis points more.


How are these high-growth organizations using customer service to create value? How might other energy providers replicate their success?


Here are some of the key findings of the study—along with my take on implications for utilities.


In the journey to trusted energy advisor, this ability to capture, analyze and then act on service-generated insights will be key. Today, it’s not uncommon for a utility to have valuable service-related data trapped on paper or siloed within different departments.


Grow trust through proactive, predictive service


In Accenture’s survey, about three-quarters of B2B (77%) and B2C (71%) customers indicated that proactive service solutions are important—but less effectively provided. Further, only 36% of customer service execs reported that their company prioritizes what’s best for customers when setting the future direction of service decisions.


Reorienting service around the customer—and closing this gap between what customers want and what they’re currently getting—represents a big opportunity to deliver more value through service.


Utilities have an opportunity to become more predictive and proactive in helping customers navigate through today’s inflationary environment. As prices keep going up, necessities like food, fuel for vehicles and utility costs eat up a much greater share of wallet for some customer segments.


A utility can use a few forms of proactive service to help customers stay on track. For example, it may help to review people’s rate plan to see if there’s a way to trim their bill. Or a utility could do proactive outreach—checking in with customers and offering to put them on a payment plan.


In this case, a utility isn’t using service to sell the latest, most innovative connected energy solution; it’s using service to build trust by helping customers manage through a difficult time.


Grow usage by helping customers get more value


The Accenture End-to-Endless Customer Service study found that B2C consumers benefit when service helps them get more value from their products. In fact, the more effective the service organization is at helping drive the most value from their product(s), the more likely customers are to purchase more.


In the B2B realm, many providers assign a “customer success manager” to help a client get the most from what they’re purchasing. Our study found that 95% of B2B customers have that kind of dedicated resource. More than half of B2C consumers (54%) would like one, too—but only about one-third (35%) report having this type of support.


These findings get to the heart of the opportunity to become a trusted energy advisor to both residential and business customers. For utilities, one of the most pressing opportunities is to make greater use of digital experiences that support “customer success.” For B2B customers, that support may be relatively sophisticated in terms of offering guidance on how to improve energy consumption. For B2C customers, being a trusted advisor might mean a two-way dialog about changes to a rate plan following the purchase of an electric vehicle. It could mean clear communication about the potential positive impacts of switching to renewable energy sources. Or it could include digital experiences that deliver the “basics”—outage notification, high bill alerts and more—more elegantly and conveniently.


Grow possibility by activating service insights


One of the most fascinating findings of our study: the potential for service-related insights to influence product development and innovation. We found when companies always involve their service organization in developing new products, they achieve 10X+ higher revenue growth. We also learned that just 22% of utilities are activating service insights in this way.


In the journey to trusted energy advisor, this ability to capture, analyze and then act on service-generated insights will be key. Today, it’s not uncommon for a utility to have valuable service-related data trapped on paper or siloed within different departments. If a utility’s rates department has been responsible for developing and evolving products, there may be a lack of awareness of customer insights. Another common example is energy-efficiency audits. Many utilities outsource these audits to third parties, so they may not be pulling audit findings into their understanding of individual customers.


Deeper understanding of and more effective engagement with customers is key to becoming a trusted energy advisor. Customer service offers the potential for significant value creation—but only if a utility fully embraces it as far more than a cost of doing business. I encourage you to explore the full findings of the Accenture End-to-Endless Customer Service study and to check out this client story about an energy provider leading the future of digital customer service.

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