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Author's profile photo Jan-Christoph Gass

There is no Utilities Customer Service. All that Matters is the Customer Experience. And 10 Reasons for it.

By Juergen Kuhmann, Industry Principal Utilities, Customer Engagement & Commerce, SAP
Digital transformation of the customer experience is coming to the utility near you. This is not a mere slogan. At last year’s SAP for Utilities Conference in Hollywood, FL a panel of four Utility CIOs was asked which is the biggest factor in determining the business and IT strategy of their company. They all agreed. It’s the customer!

One year later, I see many utilities, operating in regulated or competitive markets globally adopt aspects of the digital transformation process that companies in most other industries have gone through in the past 20 years. For example, retail companies were the first to see their traditional business model impacted by online retailers.

Customers, actually we as consumers in general, liked it so much that we wanted that same nice customer experience in basically everything we do in our private or professional lives.

I have worked in the past 17 years with many utilities and especially customer service professionals in utilities. They usually tell me that their investment is driven by the following:
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What you notice is that these KPIs only show what utilities would like to achieve. They do not reflect what the customer experience should be or what customers want to achieve. In essence, the customer is not at the heart of customer service.

Of course, many utilities have realized that. Utilities are improving their customer self-service to let people take care of their accounts on their own. Finally, people do not have to call the utility anymore. Nice.
In general people want SOLUTIONS.

Let me give you an example: About 20 years ago, I remember my dad asking the family for a birthday present. He wanted to open and close his garage door with a remote so he would not have to get out of the car every time. The family gave him a box with a garage door opener and remote inside. He was not happy. Fast forward 19 years, I wanted to offset my electricity cost by generating my own power. The utility gave me a “Net metering rate”. They left me alone with the rest. I was not happy either.

As in most other industries, also utilities are driven by customer demands to adopt a service model with as much self-service as possible. The great thing is: It is a win-win for utilities and customers!

At SAP, we are now offering our Customer Engagement & Commerce Platform also to Utilities. The main reason why we are doing this is that we are convinced that Utilities can take advantage of the benefits these solutions have delivered over past years to retailers, telecommunication companies, banks, travel agencies, and recently also government agencies. To me, it is a no brainer.

In this spirit, I am giving you my top 10 reasons why utilities should look to other industries that have been successfully undergoing the digital transformation by adopting E-Commerce principles and business processes. Enjoy.

1. Your customers compare their experience with your utilty to the best E-commerce companies like Amazon, Apple, Nordstroms, Newegg, Overstock, Home Depot, T-Mobile, Netflix, Telefonica. Go ahead, enter your favorite online retailer or service provider here.

2. Utilities typically offer a variety of water, energy and related products, services, programs and information. So do companies in other industries.

3. People want solutions to better run their homes and businesses. Utilities provide these. So do companies in other industries.

4. Customers don’t care which service provider gives them the solution, the product, service or advice. They don’t care about utility regulations. Neither do companies in other industries.

5. Your customers want to easily see online what products and services their utility and partners can offer, read reviews, order and track the delivery. Finally, they want a consolidated invoice which they will pay with the payment form of their choice. This is what all e-commerce companies do offer.

6. Strong competition from outside the industry is gaining access to the utility customers with innovative and exciting products and services. It disrupts the traditional business model of the utility which is based on sales of their core product. That’s exactly what happened to retailers, the postal service, banks, telecommunication companies or cable TV providers within the last 20 years.

7. Utilities are not innovating their product and services quickly enough. The customers’ wants and needs are not at the center of everything they do. As a result, they become less relevant to people in general. This is what has been happening to many service providers. Who is still shopping at Sears?

8. People prefer engaging online self service experiences. Who doesn’t?

9. Utilities globally are developing long-term customer engagement strategies with e-commerce requirements in mind. So have companies in other industries for many years and many utilities for a while.

10. Already today, Utilities are delivering excellence in customer communication via multiple channels consistently like mobile, web, text, social, contact center. So do companies in other industries.

In the spirit of underpromising and overdelivering I give you four more.

11. Already today, Utilities have strong expertise in serving hundreds of thousands and in many cases millions of customers simultaneously. So do companies in other industries.

12. Already today, the majority of utilities CEOs and CIOs strongly believe that customers’ needs and wants are having the biggest impact on how they do business today and in the future. So do companies in other industries.

13. Utilities operate online and retail outlets and partner with other service providers. They offer an energy marketplace of solutions to consumers. So have companies in other industries.

14. People demand better access to services while utilities struggle to overcome restrictions of their complex IT infrastructure, non-standardized business processes, and siloed organizations. This is what citizens experience with their government agencies at the moment.

What are the key take-aways?
  • Digital transformation and competition disrupts common ways utilities fund investments in general and how they pay for improving customer service in particular.

  • Any utility can improve their customers’ experience by adopting E-Commerce principles proven over many years in other industries.

  • Utilities have a unique advantage to better serve customers compared to the best E-Commerce players. Eyeballs on the monthly bill, a wealth of data (structured and unstructured, own and purchased AND TRUST!) – Thanks, Bill.

  • SAP’s Customer Engagement & Commerce Platform and Solutions can help your utility explore the possibilities on the path of digital transformation.

Let’s meet and discuss

Please meet me and my colleagues at the upcoming SAP for Utilities Conference in Huntington Beach, CA from September 13-16.

We are discussing customer engagement strategies and show you best practices from utilities and service providers outside the utilities industry. SAP and partners will demo customer engagement solutions based on the SAP and hybris portfolio.

I specifically would like to point you to our free workshop on customer engagement “Customer Engagement for Utilities: How to Put Customers & People at the Center of your Business” on September 16 from 8:00 am – 12:30 pm.

I also would like to invite you to the “PANEL: Enabling a Rich Customer Experience with SAP MCF”, which will take place on September 14th, at 1:25 pm as part of the customer centricity track.

Until then I give you these two pictures of our new SAP Customer Engagement & Commerce Platform that will help utilities be successful in the digital world.
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The SAP Customer Engagement & Commerce Platform and its solutions

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See you soon in Huntington Beach,

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Please follow us on @SAPIndustries #SAP4utl and SAP for Utilities LinkedIn group to get more information regarding the conference.

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