While we seem to view utility and green energy companies as existing in a monopolized environment, the industry is shifting. Although the competition is not as high as it is in some other industries, these companies do need to make strides forward in how they engage with work with their current customers to create positive experiences and .
For many utility customers, there is no “relationship” formed between them and the utility company. They might say “hello” to the meter reader, but there’s otherwise no actual engagement. In a monopoly situation, utility firms might counter that they have a captive customer and no need for engagement. However, satisfied customers do have an effect such as decreased need for staffing and possibly more patience during outages. There is also looming deregulation in several utility markets, where introduced competition will drastically change the utility-customer dynamics.
One way to introduce a more customer-centric approach is through technology tools such as customer relationship management (CRM) suites. With an integrated CRM solution, a utility’s service and marketing department will have instant access to a wealth of information about the customer and their current situation. CRM can also pay significant dividends for green energy companies that are trying to keep up their accelerating growth levels with a constant influx of new customers.
For example, advanced CRM solutions keep track of and allow staff to instantly see a customer’s previous actions. If there was an outage at their home the day before and they called the utility for an update, and then they called the next day, the utility staff person should know all of the details. It’s this seamless level of service that is a cornerstone of improved utility and customer relationships.
Utilities and the Customer Experience
Utility companies can also leverage smart meter data within the CRM. Tens of millions of these smart meters are in place, and are designed to transmit data about the household’s energy use back to the utility. This data is integrated into CRM solutions and can then be summarized to users, for example by sending them instant alerts on peak energy usage periods. Customer service staff can also access this information and provide energy-saving advice to customers when they call or email with a question or concern. Utilities are also utilizing this data to alert customers about unusually high usage rates. For example, perhaps a water customer has leaking underground pipes, or electricity usage is skyrocketing due to a malfunctioning pool pump.
In an effort to improve costs and increase customer satisfaction metrics, utilities are also offering customized customer portals that are built upon CRM-derived data. They allow customers to see detailed account information and usage statistics, so they can relate changes in their energy-usage behaviors to reduced bills. Many portals allow customers to report outages and view real-time outage maps along with expected service restoration times. This prevents a flood of calls into the service center which typically just confirm an outage and provide an estimated answer to its length.
CRM Driving Green Energy Growth
Solar companies provide customer-specific portals that include CRM elements. For example, solar provider Sungevity offers custom portals for each customer from the moment they sign an agreement. It allows the customer to see the step-by-step process, from design, to installation, and finally interconnection. Customers can also manage their referral network, and receive important messages directly within the portal.
Solar companies also utilize an automated set of emails to walk customers through each step. Installation of residential solar is a considerable expense, and the most successful solar companies ensure the actual process is as seamless as possible. CRM suites enable this communication across multiple lines of communication, so the customer knows where they stand in the process and are comfortable they can reach a live person if needed. These companies understand there is fierce competition in their market (unlike most utilities), so they must concentrate on a positive experience from the initial interaction to the ultimate completion of the customer’s project. And ideally, CRM will keep the relationship going, as solar firms rely heavily on current customer referrals.