Utilities providers leverage the power of digital

We spoke to Accenture and Avanade to find out how consumer-facing digital technology is transforming the way in which providers engage with consumers

Rebecca Gibson
Rebecca Gibson
By Rebecca Gibson on 24 December 2015
Utilities providers leverage the power of digital

Faced with high customer turnover rates and increased competition from non-utilities providers after the deregulation of the energy sector in 2001, Australia Gas & Light Company (AGL) turned to digital technologies to transform how it engaged with its 3.5 million customers.

AGL consolidated 50 independently managed business websites into one Sitecore-based platform running in Microsoft Azure, making it easier for AGL to proactively interact with customers over new channels. Meanwhile, now that customers receive personalised real-time energy usage reports and a 24-month energy management plan, they can better understand how to manage their energy consumption. Online visitors are now 47% more likely to consider AGL as their energy provider, while more customers are opting to pay bills via the website.

AGL is not alone in preparing itself for competition. According to Accenture’s multiyear New Energy Consumer research programme, 73% of consumers are interested in alternative non-traditional providers for energy and beyond-the-meter products and services. With this in mind, many electricity, water and gas providers are turning to digital technologies to quickly resolve customer enquiries, inform people about widespread service issues and boost customer loyalty.

According to Accenture’s 2015 New Energy ­Consumer: Unleashing Business Value in a Digital World, ­digitally engaged consumers can offer more business value to energy providers. For example, while only 13% of non-digital users are likely to recommend their energy provider, 42% of digital consumers would be willing to recommend their provider. Energy providers have much to gain by converting and retaining digital consumers.

“While utility providers traditionally spend around nine minutes per year directly interacting with their customers, digital technologies offer multiple new opportunities to easily interact with customers at key points, such as when they are looking to change tariffs or move house,” says Melissa Sherrard, senior manager for the Accenture and Avanade Digital Showcase. “For example, if a customer has a particularly high bill, utility companies should automatically send them personalised recommendations for more ­energy-efficient appliances or suggest a different tariff that would better match their requirements. Not only does this personalised service boost ­customer acquisition and retention, but it also increases cross-sell and up-sell opportunities.”

Many utilities providers are adopting integrated billing, meter data management and customer relationship management (CRM) solutions to provide employees with an overview of each customer. They are also embedding customer analytics tools into CRM systems to allow advisors to understand their customers and proactively target them with personalised product or service recommendations.

To help utilities deliver the ‘new energy consumer experience’, Accenture and Avanade have designed a Digital Customer Engagement for Utilities innovation suite. Centred on two key business pillars – empowering the New Energy Customer, and enabling the New Digital Worker – the suite aims to inspire utilities providers to adopt the capabilities needed to create a digitally connected omnichannel experience that boosts customer loyalty and transforms how employees deliver services.

“We’ve combined the best Microsoft tech­nology-based management tools for CRM, online customer experience, mobile development, meter data and billing, and workflow, and developed capabilities that allow energy providers to capitalise on major digital customer trends,” says Ken Serauskis, vice president and customer executive at Avanade. “As the number of smart devices continues to ­accelerate and the associated data grows exponentially, there’s an opportunity for utilities to improve operational efficiencies while transforming their customers’ experiences. Utilities must put the right customer analytics infrastructure in place to gather the right customer, in the right context and use that insight to deliver greater customer personalisation.”

Accenture and Avanade are also working with energy providers to develop more interactive online portals, explore how gamification can help customers better manage their energy use, and to create mobile apps to allow customers to remotely manage energy-consuming devices in their homes.

“Although the internet of things and smart grids are still relatively in the early stages, we’re exploring how connected devices in a home can be paired with visual analytics tools to help energy auditors and customers complete home energy consumption audits,” says Sherrard. “For example, an app could notify auditors about the appliances that are at the most risk of malfunctioning.”

Switching to digital technologies provides new opportunities for energy providers to offer value-added products and services. According to Accenture research, interest in signing up for energy related products and services appears to be gaining momentum across the board – with more than half of consumers interested in a wide range of products and services from their energy providers.

“In competitive markets, energy providers can create new revenue streams by offering digital solutions for home-related products and services, such as solar energy generation platforms, or bundled home services,” says Tony Masella, global managing director at Accenture Energy Consumer Services. “In a regulated marketplace, opportunities for energy providers include new partnerships or digital information services. While interest in new products and services is increasing among all energy consumers, our research shows that consumers who use digital channels to interact with their energy provider may represent even greater value.”

 


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Feature, Utilities

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