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Having worked with many utilities over a timespan of more than 15 years, I find that utilities indeed have made great strides in better communicating with their customers. For example, Utilities have invested in improving call center performance and effectiveness, collaboration in key account teams, or perfected the customer invoice with the most helpful information.  SAP has been happy to develop business solutions that contributed greatly to this success. And we can be sure that it will always be worthwhile to invest in optimizing internal departments to the best outcome for the customer as perceived by the utility. (BTW, we used to call this Customer Relationship Management, CRM).

Motivated by this success and other factors like smart grid investments or the eternal quest to lower cost-to-serve, competitive as well as traditional regulated utilities find themselves expanding their product & services portfolio. And I think many of us agreed that after all now is the time when utility services and energy are becoming more and more important in people’s lives on so many levels. After all, now is the time when people are more receptive to technological changes than ever before, helped by better consumer devices and a generational shift. After all, now is definitely the time when people should be interested having a smart meter installed, signing up for the new and improved rate, energy-efficiency program or home service, right?

But why do most customers still NOT CARE about the utility’s products and services?
And what does the customer actually want?

 

Duh! You might say in true Homer Simpson fashion. There are numerous studies on what customers want. True and I have read some of them, too. But then again are these studies really the major basis to derive conclusions from? Most of them typically ask a small subset of potential or actual customers often hypothetical questions which I would assume not 100% of the interviewed understand. Do not get me wrong. I am not saying that I have a better method on how to conduct studies.

 

I am saying that utilities need to start listening much better to actual customers and actual prospects. Listen to what they are actually saying on the most granular level. We need to process feedback of “everybody” on an individual basis in very short time intervals. And we need to identify and predict behavior patterns based on the big data stream of customer communications.  It is true that studies, focus groups and business consultants are a great help to devise a communication strategy. This helps us decide how to prioritize funding and activities. However, they do not provide the ongoing input needed to run a successful campaign for products & services and in general what the utility would like the customer to hear and understand. It is not sufficient to reach out to customers and wait “in the ivory tower” for customers to bite. Then analyze the outcome only.

To succeed you need to become a real-time customer engagement company. Its mantra shall be: 

  1. Listen to the customer voice at all times.
  2. Give every customer relevant personalized answers they actually care about.
  3. Communicate consistently in ways the customer prefers (and not the utility). 

Coupled with the technological advances that made consumer electronics mainstream with all generations, we now have the perfect situation
where customers have an open ear and a loud voice that utilities need to listen and respond to.

We at SAP have been working on extending “good-old CRM” with something new we call “SAP 360 Customer”. Within “SAP 360 Customer” we have
developed a number of solutions that will help you become this super-responsive, fast, multi-channel customer engagement company that people will love to listen to and happy to interact with. As a result, Utilities can design products & services that customers appreciate hearing about. Customers and utilities will
better listen and understand each other. They will talk on the customer’s preferred channel at the customer’s preferred point in time. Therefore, it is indeed the right time to engage in this endeavor given the fact that customers love technology to communicate.The generational shift has helped as well. SAP
can help you join in this conversation with your customers for the mutual benefit of customers and the utility.

“SAP 360 Customer” has not come overnight and we are not done working on it.  These solutions are new and improved. For example, they are built on great technological advances like SAP HANA that delivers speed and the intelligence or the SAP Mobile Platform which delivers information to any mobile device at lowest cost. 

Globally, thousands of companies and individuals are extending what people can do with their own devices at their own time and speed. Within
this ocean of consumer apps more and more also deal with the utility’s business. For example, these apps find better ways to help customers understand
usage vs. cost, align budgets or explain complex issues like invoices or how energy-efficiency, electro-mobility or renewable energies much better than
anybody else did before.

But how will the utility best use its limited budget to communicate to customers using these ever-increasing number of consumer apps?

Well, we have thought about that as well with our new SAP Utilities Multi-Channel Foundation for customer engagement. Since it is the time where the consumer determines how information is to be delivered, you need to be equipped with a foundation that lets you cost-effectively expose information from your SAP and other IT systems to the world of consumer apps avoiding the pitfall of building the same interfaces over and over again.

Finally, I would like to give you just one concrete example of what “SAP 360 Customer” can do for you?

Just imagine you are planning a large infrastructure project that will inconvenience many people (sounds familiar?). With the new SAP solution for Social
Media Analytics you can monitor customer reaction in real-time, identify advocates and critics that have emerged in the communities. Today, we are
already scanning 90 million sources daily for you to explore.  Now, you have the means to educate yourself what is important to people in the communities and regions to ensure proper planning and execution of the project. You are firing on all cylinders, reaching out to customers via mobile, web and social media without the need to hire more staff or use overtime. Your call center and other departments are fully prepared to give personalized most current information to every caller and contact. You can even teach your good old utility bill some new tricks. And with SAP’s new mobile app for Utilities self-service, customers will let you know about issues right away, so you can follow up more quickly than you ever could before. (Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsCnl6ybWJc )

Do you agree or do you think I am way off here?
What do you think how to best engage with your customers?
What are your challenges, what has worked or not worked for you so far?

I would love to hear from you. Join me at the International Utilities Conference in Copenhagen at the presentation “SAP 360 Customer” on Thursday,
February 18 at 1:45 pm or the roundtable “Engaging with the 21st Century Consumer” at 5:00 pm. Our booth “Multi-channel Customer Engagement” is open onboth conference days April 18 and 19.
Otherwise, please leave a comment.

My last word: Unlike stated before, I truly believe customers do care a lot about the utility’s services. As humans we crave comfort and convenience. And this is what utilities deliver to my house at all times in the form of electricity, gas, water etc. I have to admit that I do complain, for example when the power is out. But from now on, utilities will respond to my complaint on my preferred communication channel. At the moment an app on my Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone would suffice. Then, the utility will let me know instantly when service is coming back and I can plan my day accordingly. And maybe then they will even apologize for the inconvenience.

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