23 Dec Utilities that put customers at the center of their IT investments will thrive
Only one in five customers trust their utility. Customer trust therefore is the one benchmark with which utilities can measure their own success as well as differentiate themselves from their competitors. Additionally utilities need to realize that the Smart Grid era requires customers to be an active participant in the relationship with the utility. Self-proffered customer data forms a critical part of the data Utilities can mine for efficient cost effective operations, savings and initiatives. Only utilities that put customers at the center of their IT investments will thrive if the Utility wishes to move beyond the meter to cash process of the basic service.
InfoTech has utility customers from Asia to Africa. One of the key themes we realize as we work with them is that pressures from compliance, security and bringing order to operational chaos often comes at the expense of customer focus. Our advice is to do both. This is not so much a matter of resources as of planning. Customers today are hungrier for data, they are short on time and wish seamless interaction with the utilities at their convenience. Utilities that address these points are customer centric utilities poised to retain and get more revenue from their customers. Here are some initiatives we feel can help a utility get there:
Smart meters: Smart meters are often the first step towards a smart grid. We feel in emerging markets esp smart meters are also the first step towards wastage control and energy theft with clearer data and ability to gain insights into outage management. They enable grid reliability as well as significantly bring down meter reading costs. But their customer impact is potentially incredible. Utilities that engage the customer on smart meter rollouts and benefits and then provide pro-active data regarding usage stand to benefit from greater customer loyalty. Additionally utilities can enable prepayment with proactive warnings as usage comes close to limit that benefits their cash flow and customer planning both!
Digital channel: Customers want a multi-channel experience and they want self service. Most customers in mature markets only call a contact center when disappointed or confused by the digital channel. Engaging the customer with a digital experience designed with superior user experience (UX) at its heart is now mandatory. This means everything from usage data to billing information to payments needs to be enabled via mobile and the web.
Business process management: While we’re tempted to say analytics as a key initiative, we will go with Business process management because our experience tells us this is where an organization’s vast energy is being sucked in. BPM will allow a utility to get its house in order and be productive so that it can focus on customer centricity. It allows for creation of a smooth multichannel customer experience we already talked about. It also enables a successful smart meter rollout. Re-engineering and transforming processes to best in class and then unifying a utility’s internal processes with its customer facing ones for a faster more responsive organization is at the heart of the modern utility.
These are not easy decisions to make. They are painful at a cultural level ripping apart existing silos, forcing new internal alliances and KPI’s and creating multiple levels of accountability. But these are necessary decisions to make for an organization that is customer centric and transitively a more profitable future proof one.
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