The utility industry, which many people think of as relatively unchangeable, is next in line for disruption.
According to research from Accenture, 58 percent of utility executives believe that distributed generation — energy generated near the point of consumption, rather than in centralized power plants — will affect revenue in the industry by 2030. As a consequence, much of the potential for near-term growth will come through utilities offering new products, services and value propositions, as well as through areas such as smart cities, connected energy services and connected buildings.
Small and medium-sized businesses are a prime target for these products and services, but most utilities aren’t currently doing much to differentiate these customers from residential users. Digital tools can help to improve customer experience for this market, setting up utilities for success as their industry undergoes unprecedented change.
Small Businesses Are Open to New Energy Management Products
Accenture argues that business customers are more active digital users than residential customers (39 percent versus 27 percent). “Our research points to the need to prioritize SMB customers as part of a broader customer experience transformation program and identifies areas where SMBs can offer even greater value than residential consumers,” the report states.
For one, business customers are more likely to experiment with new products and services than residential customers. In fact, 83 percent of SMB managers report that they’re more likely to try new energy-related products and services in their role as businesspeople than as residential consumers. These customers are also more likely to recommend their provider to residential customers, with 37 percent saying they’re “very likely” to do so. For SMB customers already interested in or participating in a digital energy engagement program, that number shoots up to 61 percent.
The report also notes that SMB behavior can have a “ripple effect” on residential customers. “SMB buyers are also residential consumers, and their experiences at work impact their behavior at home,” the report notes. “This finding suggests that SMBs have greater power beyond their business role to drive energy providers’ digital transformation programs.”
Utilities Can Serve SMBs With Digital Engagement
Utilities can meet the needs of SMBs by providing a variety of digital channels for interactions. According to the Accenture report, more than 60 percent of SMB customers would prefer to use digital channels to receive notifications about high estimated bills, service disruptions, potential energy savings, and the availability of bills for review and payment. At least half prefer to use digital channels to sign up for energy-related products and services, move their service to a different location, start service or request assistance.
Beyond digital communications, utilities can improve customer experience for SMBs by offering a digital energy engagement program. The most important feature of such a program for these customers is monthly tailored energy-use reports and recommendations, with 58 percent of SMBs citing this as a top priority. Other important features of a digital energy engagement program include proactive usage alerts (53 percent), on-demand data visualizations of energy usage (51 percent) and proactive high-bill forecast alerts (50 percent).
Artificial intelligence is also important for SMB customers. The report notes that chatbots and digital assistants can handle high-volume, low-value transactions quickly and at a low cost, allowing energy providers to reinvest savings in growth initiatives.
“It’s time for energy providers that appreciate the importance of customer experience to walk the talk in terms of investments and attention,” the report concludes. “If they don’t, SMB customers might switch to providers that offer the seamless interactions, multi-channel experiences and products and services they demand.”