Utility providers are often unprepared for the rapid growth of digital media. In side-lining digital opportunities utility providers often miss the mark when it comes to sustained acquisition and engagement – so how can we combat this?
Face the facts
The main problem facing utility brands is that customers make their choice of provider based on the following factors:
- Customer service reputation
In short there’s very little reason for a customer to choose one supplier over another. The energy sector has already been investigated on grounds of displacing competition in a market dominated by the monolithic ‘big six’ companies. Without the pressures of competition there’s very little a company can do to further its appeal and come out on top. So, we have to compete on a level playing field; a field that might as well be digital.
Don’t get Left Behind
Sales funnels for traditional services operate using a passive model. These worked in the past, especially when rational decision factors available to buyers were limited, and utility companies prospered.
Now digital media has increased the number of evaluation factors available to consumers. Take comparison websites for example; never before has it been easier to find a better deal elsewhere. A new generation of digitally native utility companies has emerged in this wake.
New and agile ‘Utilitech’ rivals can move faster, have lower overheads, and can plant social media and new technology at the core of their new customer-focused model. Customers now have a wider choice to evaluate and new rivals can offer something which is more appealing than any of the traditional rational factors.
Utilities with an established customer base can learn from their young challengers. In creating a new customer-focused digital service utilities can expect to keep the older generation happy and entice the new generation with new technologies.
Harvest Social Advocacy
Where once there was just a phone line and Watchdog on BBC, now social media channels, switching sites, consumer savings sites, blogs and reviews sites offer free public forums where consumers can voice their complaints and concerns about a utility company.
This provides utility companies with the chance to reinvent themselves and be more creative. Utility representatives can use public forums to prove their customer service skills and foster advocacies to help drive new customers. Used astutely, uncontrolled engagement can do more good than harm and even be used to create a community-based customer care system which is more efficient than traditional processes.
Adopt New Technology
Consumers expect more from their utility suppliers than ever. They expect utilities to provide technology, whether they be smart metering, live chat customer services, online billing or something else, as standard. The availability of new user experience-focused technology, for this generation, is almost the most important factor of all.
Not only can new technology lead to a reduction in overall costs in the long run, it often helps to do more for the company than just provide the basic service. Utilities can gain rich customer level data from through new technologies which customers are happier to share than ever. This can help in the following ways:
- Improving customer loyalty
- Providing instant feedback
- Customising offers
- Feeding into new product and service development
Engagement is the primary challenge facing utilities still using the traditional sales funnel approach.
There is no choice but to embrace the social universe, so it’s best to grab it with both hands, especially when it provides new opportunities for utilities to grow their customer base and their overall brand reputation.