How are digital products driving utility in the world of utilities?

Rising prices, environmental pressures, regulation changes and customer retention are just some of the challenges facing utility companies.

And while the outlook may be slightly different between energy, water and telecommunications, there is one key area creating positive change for all - mobile customer experience.

Digital and mobile platforms are impacting the utility industry in many ways and help to strike an important balance between solving business problems and meeting customer needs.

Getting that balance right is essential to improve customer relationships in a sector where brand love isn’t anywhere near as high as it should be given the critical nature of the heating, power, water and connectivity services being provided.

Here we examine the three main areas where digital products are making their presence felt

1. Hygiene factors - doing the basics well

Across all utilities, the hygiene opportunity presented by mobile apps is a big one. Whether you’re in the business of keeping customers warm, powering homes and businesses or keeping them connected, the need to make regular tasks easier is more important than ever.

Increase self-serve, decrease costs

The obvious starting point has to be giving customers more access and control over their accounts.

Well designed and developed apps provide easy access to simple tasks like checking usage, paying bills and amending personal information. They also have the double benefit of empowering customers while simultaneously reducing the load on customer service teams. This can be supplemented by other efficiencies like paperless billing to further reduce print and postage costs. 

Enabling customers to do things on their terms facilitates the frictionless experiences they are used to elsewhere, while providing greater visibility of activity.

Easy and efficient

There is huge value in better understanding which services people engage with, which they find useful and also when they use them. Having data to support customer behaviour makes for easier management and measurement of the overall service platform.

Companies are being judged not just on the price and quality of the utility, but the efficiency and ease of customer journeys, interactions and platforms, whether that’s submitting meter readings, checking your data allowance or amending a direct debit.

Push and pull

Day-to-day tasks are also made easier by push notifications, keeping customers informed and up to date for billing reminders, outage alerts, and service information. 

My Vodafone app - Apadmi

A push can also become a pull, by bringing customers back into an app or platform and driving engagement outside of regular billing schedules. 

The hygiene factor can also apply to internal processes with applications helping engineers out in the field with prioritising tasks, managing appointments, reporting on progress and improving operational efficiency.

GPS and location-based services can also provide information on nearby service centres, access to other departments or the location of service technicians.

2. Effectiveness - knowing behaviour and the customer

Once the foundations of improved day-to-day tasks and processes are in place, that’s when effectiveness can really start to kick in. A big part of which is measurement to better understand what’s working and what’s not.

Analyse this, and that

Continuing the trend of delivering value for both business and customer, the data created by in-app behavioural analysis provides valuable insight to aid effectiveness for the business and greater personalisation for the customer.

That could be the provision of real-time usage data and analytics to help customers understand consumption patterns and make more informed decisions. Or it could include tools to assist in the analysis of bills to help better manage budgets.

Mobile app admin task

The greater the usefulness of the app, the more it gets used and the higher the added value for the service provider - utility begets utility.

Loyalty and utility?

Where it gets really useful is in driving loyalty. The ability to personalise the experience and reward behaviours is something being done to great effect in other sectors, but not all utility companies are as fully on board the loyalty programme train as their telco or retail counterparts.

Whether it’s through rewards, partner offers, discounts or early access to events, loyalty programs have been used to great effect in the telco space for more than a decade - just look at how long O2’s priority campaign has been running. And for those old enough to remember, similarly Orange Wednesdays

All the main MVNOs (Mobile Voice Network Operators) now have extensive rewards programmes in place. Three, for example, has current customer benefits with Caffe Nero, Nandos and Cineworld.

But in the world of energy and water, there’s much more headroom to be found. A brief search across the main energy and water companies yields little in the way of incentives to help differentiate, to the point that British Gas has abandoned its rewards programme altogether.

Mobile tech to the rescue

The seamless integration of native app functionality can really help bring rewards to life, providing easy access and redemption of vouchers, integration with wallets as well as in-app payments for any additional services if needed.

All of which helps to better know your customer and create stickiness which could make a difference when renewal or review time rolls around.

Mobile phone in daily use

3. Raising the bar

With day-to-day hygiene and the improved effectiveness taken care of, what comes next? How can great mobile experiences help utility services to raise the bar and potentially begin to differentiate?

Consolidation of services

Part of the challenge of utilities is that customers are engaging with a myriad of services from multiple providers. While the industry is some way off (if ever) joining up all the key utility services to any one household, the accessibility of apps is starting to join the dots.

The integration of IoT devices and smart home systems with lighting, heating, cooling and connectivity is already in play. Giving customers more control and convenience means ultimately trying to provide visibility of as many services as possible in one place.

Whether it’s Apple Homekit, Amazon Alexa or Google Home, they are all essentially gateways to manage the extensions of the fundamental services provided by our utility companies.

We’re already using these frameworks to control lights, heating and even ovens and washing machines. The additional layer of providing meter readings or managing usage is an obvious next step.

More effective CRM

Consolidation aside, and also in an effort to combat the big tech companies from becoming not just gateways but gatekeepers, utility companies are already taking advantage of the huge CRM potential presented by creating their own mobile apps.

Mobile is the most responsive messaging medium and can provide customers with offers, immediate service notifications and content that is uniquely relevant to them more quickly and cheaply than any other channel, making it an ideal CRM tool to learn more about customers and better manage relationships.

Multiple mobile phone users - apps drive engagement - Apadmi

Other revenue streams

There’s also the potential to add in other revenue streams, including suggesting additional services or products based on customer preferences.

Data (with permission) can also be monetised by offering insight to other businesses or providers through aggregation and analysis.

A force for good

To come back to where we started, the final point to make is perhaps the most pertinent when it comes to using digital products and platforms to improve customer relationships in utilities.

And that’s the opportunity to provide added value and create interaction beyond the expected bill-paying or complaint-making.

Whether it’s offering suggestions to help customers reduce consumption, garnering support for community initiatives, promoting sustainability or updating on infrastructure investments, these are the things which, if delivered at the right time, in a personal way, in the format you know the customer prefers, can help to make a difference.

If you’d like to find out more about how Apadmi has helped our utility clients and how we can make a difference to your business, we’d love to hear from you.

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