Top 10 Takeaways from EMACS 2019

Customer experience (CX) for utility companies is a drastically changing landscape, as customers expect more from their utility providers today than ever before. That’s why conferences like Chartwell’s EMACS exist: to gather CX leaders from across the utility space and discuss how to tackle some of the industry’s biggest challenges.

The conference was full of insights and ideas, so our team put together our top 10 takeaways from the experience.

1. Good is no longer good enough when it comes to utility CX.

Tara Oglesby, the Vice President of Customer Experience at AmerenMissouri, identified a challenge for her organization that rings true across the industry: good is no longer good enough.

Customers expect more from their utility provider than functioning electricity or running water—they expect their provider to go beyond these basic services to improve the overall experience of doing business with your utility.

According to a survey conducted by Pitney Bowes, 85% of customers want a blend of digital and physical channels to access their utility provider. Customers expect to be able to use channels such as email, telephone, web, text and in person. Most critically, they expect all of these tools and channels to function together seamlessly as one integrated, convenient experience.

2. Improving CX requires an organizational shift.

Michael Cross, the Vice President of Innovation at Entergy, explained in his presentation: “Customer experience is not something that can be solved with a project. There is no beginning or end. It’s continuous.”

Improving customer experience requires the continuous alignment and realignment of people, processes, and technology. When one of these factors changes, you must recalibrate the other factors in order to provide the experience that customers expect. For example, when a company implements a new technology solution, they have to align their people and processes in order to ensure not just that it works, but that it works the way the customer needs it to.

3. Convenience is key for the customer.

Kimarie Aycock, Arizona Public Service’s Supervisor of Digital Customer Care, identified the three C’s for digital experience: customer-centric, convenient channels, and customer choice.

According to a 2019 Cogent survey of over 60,000 utility customers, 94% of customer satisfaction is derived from the amount of effort they exert to do business with their utility. If a customer is able to access their utility via convenient channels of their choice, it has an overwhelmingly positive impact on customer satisfaction.

4. Think from the customer’s perspective.

Tomaso Giannelli, Senior Manager at Southern California Edison shared how his company communicates with customers ahead of proactive power outages that SCE executes to help prevent wildfires, saying “Communicate WITH your customers not AT them.”

In these unique situations, SCE’s perspective may be focused on navigating the logistics of the power outages and measuring their impact on preventing wildfires, but the individual customer is likely focused on the possibility of being without power for an unknown period of time. By communicating WITH the customer and considering their individual needs, the utility will deliver a better CX and reduce stress for the customer.

5. Deliver on customer needs in real time.

When customers depend on their utility provider to fulfill some of their basic physiological needs by providing water or heat, reliable delivery and effective communication around the delivery of those services is critical to maintain customer trust and customer satisfaction.

Entergy’s Michael Cross emphasized this point, saying, “Customer needs are not based on six month measures. Their needs are in real time. You have to be able to meet them in real time.”

6. You have to understand your customer in order to meet their needs.

Meeting customer needs in real time requires a clear understanding of what those needs are, informed by both data and human insight.

Stephen Gill, User Experience Channel Manager at NiSource, discussed leveraging five cycles of usability testing to keep an understanding of the customer core to the end product when building their new web and mobile presence.

Read more about NiSource’s digital transformation in this case study

7. Both data and emotional insight on your customers informs CX efforts.

Corey LeBlanc from Origin Bank advised, “Humanize your CX by using emotion and data together - well.”

Imagine that an organization conducted a customer survey and found that 85% of their customers felt frustrated with the number of channels available to communicate with their provider, and they wanted additional entry points such as a mobile app, online portal, email, and call center. So, the company takes action on this data by building all of these entry points.

However, imagine that when the company built all of these solutions, they created disparate experiences and require customers to re-enter their home address, account ID, and billing information each time they logged into one of these channels. Their customers would likely continue to feel frustrated, because in building the solution, the utility company did not consider what emotions the customer was experiencing that informed this data.

The customers wanted more access points to communicate with their utility provider because they wanted more convenience and expected an easier way to log into their account, wherever they are. A solution that does not fulfill customer expectations unfortunately makes the customer feel misunderstood and reduces trust.

8. Offer value to your customers, and they will offer value to you.

According to research from Lee Resources, 91% of customers won’t do business with a company again if they’re unhappy with the experience.

While many utility customers cannot choose whether or not they do business with their utility, they can choose whether or not they engage with programs such as online accounts or paperless billing. When customers choose not to engage with their utility, this reduces the amount of data available to the provider on their customers.

Entergy’s Joseph Ricks pointed out that 55% of consumers do not believe they get enough value from their utility to disclose their data. On the flipside, 75% of consumers are willing to share data with brands they trust and receive value from.

Each touchpoint with a customer is an opportunity to add value, humanize the relationship, and build trust. The most successful utilities with the strongest CX in place are those that maximize every touchpoint.

9. Use tools such as customer panels, surveys, interviews, journey maps, and personas to inform your CX solution.

Companies like Tuscon Electric Power connect data and emotion by hosting customer panels to test their solutions and gain real-time insight from their customers.

John Bord, Manager of Customer Experience at TEP, said, “Even well-planned utility solutions can go wrong if they aren’t tested. TEP’s customer panels are an important tool to create customer led-solutions.”

Similarly to TEP, NiSource creates customer led-solutions by using customer interviews, surveys, and social listening from hundreds of customers to inform journey maps and customer personas, which then inform the design and functionality of their solution.

10. Earning customer trust is critical to power your plans for the future.

A 2018 survey by Cogent of over 60,000 utility customers found that only 16% of customers view their utility as a trusted energy adviser, though 53% of variability in customer satisfaction scores are affected by trust.

When utility providers are able to fully understand their customer needs using both data and emotional insights, and consistently deliver on those needs, they earn customer trust. Online and offline, at every interaction, successful CX initiatives are built by earning customer trust.