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Traditional utilities companies are taking big hits as revenues and margins shrink and competition from independent distributed generation and green energy companies grow.  Additional regulatory requirements around CO2 emissions are proving costly and time consuming, at a time when solar energy is making great strides. According to the Solar Energy Industry Association, 500,000 homes and businesses installed solar panels in the first half of 2014.

At the same time, consumers want and expect to be able to interact with their utilities in the same ways they communicate with retailers, professional services firms, and other vendors.  They want accurate, detailed information in real time about outages, billing, and usage.

To prosper and grow, utilities companies must rethink their business models, and upgrade technology to better serve their customers.

Put your customers first

Instead of relegating customer service to its own department, the entire organization should be focused on giving customers what they want – where, when, and how they want it. Decisions across the entire organization should be viewed through the lens of what affect they will have on customer experience.

First, understand who your customers are.  Don’t confine it to the one who pays the bills.  Everyone who consumes energy is your customer; each household or business account represents multiple energy consumers.  Dig deep in your data for insights, then figure out what your customers want.  The concept is simple.  Studies consistently show that consumers want lower bills, personalized insights, information about upgrades, and an understanding of how their usage compares to others.

Recognize that your customers have a choice, especially in deregulated states like Texas.  Not only do you need to keep the customers you have, you also need to attract new ones.  And use your understanding of what customers want to create a vision for the future.

For many utilities, this will involve transitioning from generating energy to providing solutions.  Germany’s largest utility, E.ON, recently announced that it would spin off its power generation business and focus on its renewable activities, regulated distribution networks and tailor-made energy efficiency services.  These new business models and services will require new and simpler ways for the utilities to engage their customers.

Choose a partner who can power long-term growth

The SAP Multichannel Foundation for Utilities (MFU) was developed in response to the dynamic change in customer engagement and can dramatically reduce customer service complexity and costs by shifting interactions to digital and mobile channels.  In addition to a web template application, it also includes templates for smartphones and tablets.

Not only do digital and mobile channels provide the experiences customers seek, they do so at a much lower cost.  In fact, utilities companies that operate simply with MFU are saving between 20 and 30 percent on customer service resources.

Data from MFU gives users a 360-degree view of their customers, providing them with insights that lead to better decisions and smarter investments. More than 3,900 utilities companies in 118 countries – 91 percent of the Fortune 2000 – partner with SAP to Run Simple.  We define simplicity not just in new software and real time business processes but also to deliver services and tailored deployment options, such as cloud offerings.  What could your organization achieve if your customer experience was proactive, predictive, and personalized?

I would like to know your views – drop in your comments @sapindustries.

See how utilities Run Simple.

This post originally appeared on SAP Business Innovation.

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