A positive customer experience is crucial for both customer loyalty and customer acquisition. Accordingly, the focus must be on satisfying customer needs in the best possible way and offering a uniform customer experience across all channels. A study revealed that more than three-quarters of customer complaints are currently not actively answered by customer service.¹ This suggests that utility companies face challenges in terms of interaction and integration with their customers. As early as 2015, Gelsenwasser AG realized that its former online service had to be replaced by a future-oriented technology with modern user guidance and relied on SAP Multichannel Foundation and SAP UI5 for itself and its associated companies. As a consultant, I would like to share with our customers some experiences from several implementation and maintenance projects of Multichannel Foundation for Utilities using GELSENWASSER as an example.
Why Online Self-Services?
Companies in the utilities industry in Germany have been in a phase of forced change in their value creation structures for some time. The separation of sales from grid management as part of unbundling and the associated legal requirements are leading, for example, to a change in the previously monopolistic electricity market towards a perfect market.
With the help of comparison portals, the supply offers can be compared transparently throughout Germany, while the delivery quality remains identical regardless of the actual electricity supplier. Electricity providers must therefore adapt to the impact of a higher acceptance of switching possibilities by their customers. Nearly 75% of household customers currently have a contractual relationship with their universal service provider. However, since 2006 there has been an annual increase in supplier changes that is not connected with a move.² In addition, players from other industries enter the market and take over services along the entire value chain. For example, the sale of electricity by trading companies or telecommunications providers is conceivable.
This raises questions for energy suppliers about maintaining margins and breaking out of price competition. Since the product cannot serve as a unique selling point, a positive customer experience is crucial for both customer retention and customer acquisition. The best possible satisfaction of customer needs and a consistent and cross-channel customer experience must therefore be the focus.
Customer integration and self-service create opportunities for optimizing business processes and customer loyalty, as well as challenges with regard to the technical and organizational implementation of the customer’s integration.
The online service used by GELSENWASSER before 2015 already offered the possibility to check all contract details after a short login, to keep an eye on payments and to record meter readings. However, the problem was that the online service solution at the time lacked flexibility. Ralph Rombeck, Head of Billing at GELSENWASSER, said at the time:
The administration was time-consuming, the maintenance cost-intensive, the design visually outdated and also confusing for customers.
For the multi-layered group of companies, at that time with eleven sales companies with up to five divisions and its own grid company, the isolated solutions were to be replaced with a uniform system. In addition to a coherent user guidance and an appealing experience for the customer, this also had to enable good maintainability for a large number of brands. It was also intended to be well-designed for use on mobile devices and be expandable to include social media functions.
From an operational point of view, decisive: GELSENWASSER wanted to separate the design of the website from the underlying processes in order to simplify maintenance and make it more flexible. GELSENWASSER also wanted to offer more functionality than ever. Customers should be able to calculate prices of different tariffs and find the perfect tariff for them directly via the online presence. An important advantage for the acquisition of new customers.
Our promise “customer in focus” can be fulfilled with the new
solution. – Ralph Rombeck, Head of Billing, GELSENWASSER
Focus on the customer
Integrated self-services are the focus of the new solution. Whether address or bank details: customers can change their data within seconds without calling customer service. They also have access to the complete consumption history and online invoices and can record their meter readings – also conveniently via smartphone.
“In contrast to the old customer centre, the tariff can now be changed at the click of a mouse, or even the supplier,” explains Ralph Rombeck. With the online product calculator, customers can also determine which products are most useful for their individual needs.
The solution SAP Multichannel Foundation for Utilities and Public Sector forms the basis for this. It acts as a “data distributor” between all customer channels and the SAP backends of GELSENWASSER – in particular the industry-specific SAP system SAP for Utilities. During the course of the project Multichannel Foundation for Utilities was expanded to incorporate the specific requirements of GELSENWASSER and, above all, to implement a company-wide uniform CRM strategy. And thus the foundation for the “Customer in Focus” project, with which GELSENWASSER is establishing a state-of-the-art service. As part of the introduction, the project team has also more closely interlinked the processes of sales, marketing and service, thus accelerating cooperation.
With the new solution, we can integrate additional brands quickly and easily. – Ralph Rombeck, Head of Billing, GELSENWASSER
Multichannel Foundation for Utilities and Public Sector was announced in April 2013. “It soon became clear to us that we had the right solution in front of us,” says Rombeck. GELSENWASSER was one of the first companies to introduce the software – in the ramp-up phase and intensively supported by SAP Consulting.
“We have applied an agile implementation method for the project. This enabled us to implement our requirements in phases and achieve results at an early stage. In each phase, workshops were held in which we clarified our requirements,” explains Rombeck.
This initially resulted in a blueprint, which was directly implemented after approval by GELSENWASSER. As a result, individual functional areas were gradually implemented, for example the billing and acquisition processes.
It was a complex project in which GELSENWASSER not only introduced the SAP Multichannel Foundation for Utilities and Public Sector solution, but also began a website relaunch: “We redesigned the online customer centres for all sales companies simultaneously“, notes Rombeck.
You can only lift a project of this size if everyone pulls together. There were great dependencies between the subprojects. For this reason, the colleagues exchanged information intensively with each other, and schedules and tasks were precisely coordinated. This was extremely important – Ralph Rombeck, Head of Billing, GELSENWASSER
In the end, the parallel introduction was a complete success. In addition to the great commitment of all employees, the support of the management was decisive for this.
What should you learn from our experience?
The new online services for customers of all associated companies have been in operation for some time now. Since implementation, new functionalities have been continuously added – some visible to the end customer, some to optimise the maintainability for GELSENWASSER itself.
But what should you take with you from our experience with the introduction and maintenance of SAP Multichannel Foundation for Utilities, not only at GELSENWASSER?
- Apply realistic standards in your planning. An online service that has grown over several years can hardly be replaced within a very short period of time. Take the time to optimize and polish your new service – it is your face to the outside.
- Do not only consider the technical aspects, but also take the opportunity to optimize your business processes.
- Reflect in advance on your requirements, further necessary integrations and already existing customer developments that may have an impact on the project.
- Enable an intensive exchange and a fast communication between the involved departments and take the time for proper planning.
- Ensure the support of all key stakeholders and create short decision paths.
- Learn about the functionality of Multichannel Foundation for Utilities, bearing in mind that it was developed primarily with a focus on self-service for consumers and small businesses. Other applications are likely to lead to an increase in project work.
- Make use of existing expertise and accelerators. In the German market, for example, several external consulting firms and SAP Consulting offer their own Multichannel Foundation for Utilities templates as project accelerators.
What was or is your objective with regard to online self-services?
We are happy to share the experience we have gained and are ready to advise you if you face similar challenges. If you are interested in more information about SAP Multichannel Foundation for Utilities, please do not hesitate to contact me.
¹) Cf. Glattes, Karin (2016), p. 184: Der Konkurrenz ein Kundenerlebnis voraus: Customer Experience Management – 111 Tipps zu Touchpoints, die Kunden begeistern, Wiesbaden: Gabler, 2016
²) Cf. Bundesnetzagentur (2016), p. 192 ff.: Monitoringbericht 2016 (2016), https://www.bundesnetzagentur.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/DE/Sachgebiete/Energie/Unternehmen_Institutionen/DatenaustauschUndMonitoring/Monitoring/Monitoringbericht2016.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=2, (Access: 2018-07-18, 15:03 MEZ)