Communication is the key to any healthy relationship. We’ve all heard that before, right? Just tune in to the daytime talk shows, latest dating reality creation, or even pick up a paper and read an advice column (if those are still a thing). It’s a simple, common-sense sentiment that’s been accepted as fact when it comes to personal relationships. It also holds true in business.
Nowhere is this notion of openness and honesty more relevant than in the energy sector. As a whole, the relationship between utilities and their customers is poor. And it has been that way for as long as either can remember. While there has been some progress in customer satisfaction over the past few years, the energy industry still lags behind several comparable low-engagement industries. According to J.D. Power’s 2016 Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study, three of those industries are Auto Insurance, Retail Banking, and Airlines. Not exactly a who’s who when you think of happy, smiling customers.
The issue lies mainly in a failure to keep up with the times. Customers want—no, demand—experiences that are as effortless and intuitive as what they enjoy with Netflix or Amazon. Utilities are not exactly known for making it easy for their customers, and in many ways it’s an industry that time forgot. Just look at the average online experience or try to find an app from your energy provider. But there is a silver lining: a ton of opportunity moving forward.
Creating the Utility of the Future
The energy industry is in the midst of arguably the biggest change in its history as it modernizes the way energy is delivered, priced, consumed, and controlled. Utilities across the nation are infusing state-of-the-art technology into the grid to create an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), which allows two-way communication between providers and customers. To oversimplify and understate the situation, it’s a pretty big deal. A fundamental change in the business model that involves an endless list of technical and logistical improvements.
But we’re marketers, so let’s bring it back to the where area we can make meaningful change. The distant, occasionally rocky relationship between customers and their energy provider. This structural overhaul creates a great opportunity to reinvent the modern utility, transforming from “sender of bills” to a true partner capable of guiding customers through the changing energy landscape.
Consumers want a deeper relationship. It just has to be easy.
The energy that utilities provide powers nearly every aspect of consumers’ lives. Energy dominates their daily headlines, whether it’s oil prices, climate change, electric cars, or a major outage. Deep down, customers want to be more involved and in control of their consumption.
They just don’t want to have to work at it. By taking a proactive, informative approach to customer communications, energy providers can build trust and ultimately position themselves as a helpful resource. Here are three keys to keep in mind:
- Be open and transparent—energy is complicated, and misunderstanding can quickly lead to mistrust. Clear, concise communications help educate and inform customers while developing a likable personality for the provider.
- Make it easy to interact—consumers want the information they need in as few clicks as possible. Mobile-optimized, responsive websites are a great start, while customized apps that allow customers to understand and analyze their energy usage are the goal.
- Show that you have customers’ interests at heart—billing statements and customer calls are expected interactions, but the conversations had when neither party has anything to gain can be the most fruitful. Establish a regular cadence of communication and employ a helping vs. selling approach.
In the end, we’re all just people communicating with other people, regardless of industry in which we work, the product being sold, or service being offered. The same rules for nurturing healthy, fulfilling relationships in your personal life can also work wonders in the world of business. Communicate early and often, make interactions pleasant and worthwhile, and show a genuine interest in what’s important to the other person. Great advice for the energy industry with which I’m sure Dr. Phil would agree.