By James McClelland
It has become a familiar predicament for companies in the power business. How to meet customers’ heightened expectations for a high-quality experience with the company, its brand, products, services and people, while at the same time maintaining a quality workforce to consistently provide the experiences customers expect?
According to research from Capgemini, 81% of consumers — and 73% of utility customers — would be willing to spend more for a better experience. Meanwhile, separate research by IDC indicates energy suppliers have plenty of room to improve in that regard. “Energy consumers around the world suggest that the customer experience provided by energy suppliers is mediocre at best,” IDC concludes, citing ratings in which consumers gave energy suppliers an average score of 3.03 on a scale of 1 to 5.
The prevailing talent shortage certainly isn’t helping matters. According to a recent report from the Energy Futures Initiative, 77% of U.S. energy industry employers have had difficulty hiring qualified workers in the last 12 months, up almost seven percentage points from the prior year.
As heavily as talent figures into the quality-of-service equation, there’s an X factor that is fast gaining strategic relevance in an increasingly consumer-focused energy business. It’s called experience management (XM), a term that speaks to the growing importance that data — and the intelligent technologies to gather, interpret and act upon it — has in enabling companies to (1) shape the experiences they provide to customers and to prospective and current employees; and (2) to develop new revenue streams and explore new business models.
In a world where companies are disproportionally rewarded when they deliver a great experience and punished when they don’t, here’s an equation worth getting to know: X+O=XM, where O represents business operations data gathered from across the enterprise, and X represents experience data gathered from feedback provided by customers and by employees. Experience management essentially is how enterprises strategically connect the insight they gain from that feedback directly to business outcomes. In today’s energy business, a growing contingent of companies are investing in the digital capabilities to make those connections, and by doing so, are leveraging XM to strengthen the outcomes they deliver to employees and customers alike.
The X Factor in Talent Attraction, Retention
Organizations that focus on employee experience report up to four times more profit per employee, three times more revenue per employee and have a turnover rate 40% lower than the average company, according to analysis by Qualtrics.
An emphasis on employee experience, supported by digital XM capabilities, can provide companies in the talent-hungry energy business with a powerful edge in keeping employees engaged. Say a power company, using advanced analytics applied to business operations data, identifies several service issues, among them an inordinately large amount of time to execute work orders, along with a high rate of back-ordered materials on service calls, and a higher than acceptable level of customer complaints about technicians’ quality of service.
With XM tools, the company could, via an app, online portal, etc., provide both customers and technicians with opportunities to give feedback after a service experience. Maybe there are common refrains from customers like, “Your service technician was not knowledgeable” and “The technician didn’t come prepared with the materials to complete the job.” And maybe they hear from technicians, “I didn’t feel adequately trained to complete this work,” and “The work order didn’t give me enough advance information about material requirements to complete the job.”
By combining X insights from customers and employees, the company gains real-time insights around what is influencing service KPIs. It then can act on these insights by addressing customer issues and on the employee side, by improving technician training in the identified area(s) and subsequently rewarding technicians for completing that training, and by improving labor and materials planning by providing technicians with timelier, more thorough work orders. Going forward, technicians now believe their employer is investing more in their on-the-job success.
Bigger picture, by combining the intelligence they gain from the X and O data, power companies gain a clearer picture of the key experience drivers impacting engagement and attrition in the workforce. They then can allocate resources accordingly to strengthen training, to upskill employees who perhaps want to ply their talents in some emerging area of the energy business, and to arm employees with tech tools that help them do their jobs better while freeing them from repetitive, mundane work. All this feeds the employee engagement that helps companies to reduce turnover and keep the talent they value.
The X Factor to Deepen, Broaden Customer Relationships
Consumer preferences are pushing power companies to evolve from mere commodity peddlers into trusted sources of solutions and advice. Research shows, for example, that a significant share of electricity consumers want energy-efficiency products and services like home electric vehicle charging, whole-home monitoring packages built around smart thermostats, and home solar options. What’s more, they want the convenience of being able to source, and get advice about, these products and services from the same companies that supply their energy.
All of which feeds into the elevated experience that consumers now expect the companies with which they do business to deliver. XM approaches are enabling power providers to fulfill those expectations, and to explore new revenue opportunities in the process. A company could, for example, capture feedback to better understand customer preferences around adoption of new products and services before they are introduced. Say via the company app or their personalized home energy usage page, a sizable contingent of a power provider’s customers express interest in a home energy management system packaged with a security system. The company then can configure a bundle that caters specifically to that customer segment and market it in a highly personalized way via customers’ preferred channels. Once the leads generated by the customized campaign are converted into actual orders (via a simple, seamless experience that includes in-the-moment interactions where, for example, the customer gets advice on which security system is best for their size home), the company can use XM tools to gather feedback from customers and technicians during and after installation to further improve the overall experience.
These types of interactions already are occurring in electricity markets in the U.S. and abroad, orchestrated by companies who have come to realize just how important better experiences are, to their customers, their employees and their bottom lines.
James McClelland is senior global marketing director of SAP’s energy & utility industry vertical. He’s based in Plano, Texas.