What is the essence of effective customer engagement for utilities? Caroline Winn, Vice President of Customer Services and Chief Customer Privacy Officer at San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) sums it up perfectly when describing their consumer engagement programs:
“We have found that to be successful, it is crucial to offer the right information to the right customers through the right channels at the right time to encourage participation.” 1.
It sounds very straightforward but what it takes to meet these requirements is no small task.
How do you know what the right information is? Well it’s important to note that she didn’t say “right data.” Simply presenting data to utility customers doesn’t convey enough meaning because people don’t always have a context to understand it. If you ask one of your customers if the average monthly indoor water usage is 5,000 or 9,000 gallons, most won’t know. In truth many won’t care.
Many will care, however, if you translate that quantity of water into dollars and show them practical, realistic ways they can save.
Most water utilities already know what information their customers want and need because they are continually getting the same routine requests directed to their customer service staff. For example, customers may want to see how much water they’re using during the billing cycle or how much they’ve spent. They may want to track their usage against a looming price tier or water budget value. They may want to receive notification if there is water usage at their home when they’re traveling.
The nice thing for utilities is that you have an attentive audience. If you really want to know what information your customers want…you can ask them.
Determining the “right customers” really translates into identifying distinct groups in your customer base and tailoring the information you provide, to their interests. Ms. Winn goes on to say:
“Through customer segmentation we address individual customer needs in the areas of language, culture and special circumstances to better reach those that need our help the most.
For example, one particular segment that makes up 20 percent of our residential customers is both budget-constrained and environmentally conscious at the same time…
One of the most interesting things about this segment is they have the highest interest in engagement with SDG&E…. By reaching out to this group to provide tools to help manage their usage–such as energy audits, online energy management tools and weekly energy use email–we are successfully building a positive relationship with them and making a difference in their everyday lives.”
Segmenting your customer base can be as straightforward as grouping accounts by billing class–i.e. residential, commercial, or industrial–and then organizing information that would be relevant to each segment. It can evolve from there by identifying smaller subgroups or “subclasses” such as: residential – multifamily, residential – single family, commercial – hotel, commercial – restaurant, etc., and sending information that is targeted at their interests. And again, you can ask them – who do they think has the same issues, interest, or constraints regarding the use of the utility that they do?
Right Communications Channel
Your customers already access numerous communication channels including the Web, e-mail, telephone, text, direct mail, church services, community organizations, etc. Part of your job as a utility is to make these communication channels available to consumers, let them decide how they want to receive information, and provide ways to help them apply that information to their own circumstances.
Customer portal technologies can make communicating in multiple channels less laborious, more manageable, and far more effective.
Right timing is a simple concept but challenging to execute. For example, no customer wants to learn about a leak in his/her home, twenty days after it started and after black mold has started to flourish. Customers don’t like to find out they just exceeded a price tier that doubles their bill, when they could have postponed watering the last two days of the billing cycle.
Sending timely messages and information to your customers requires automation. For example, you may offer consumers the ability to set a billing or usage threshold in their online account. If the customer’s usage exceeds the threshold, the customer gets an e-mail, text, or phone call.
If you work with a large customer base, notifying customers manually would be overwhelming. You really need a system that automatically alerts customers after certain conditions have been satisfied.
Right Customer Portal
Luckily for municipal water providers, customer portal solutions are available that can assist with:
- Identifying different customer segments
- Sharing valuable and relevant information
- Offering multiple communications channels
- Proactively delivering information in a timely manner.
These solutions aren’t just for the electric and natural gas marketplaces. They can be effectively used by water utilities to engage customers, increase client satisfaction, and provide real benefits to the customer – and perhaps the entire community.
1. Kathleen Wolf Davis. “What we’ve learned in San Diego: Low-income customers want to engage” – Kathleen Wolf Davis. Intelligent Utility Daily. 8/5/2103. http://www.intelligentutility.com/article/13/08/what-we-ve-learned-san-diego-low-income-customers-want-engage?utm_source=2013_08_06&utm_medium=eNL&utm_campaign=IU_DAILY&utm_term=Original-Member