Driving Customer Satisfaction in the Utility Sector
– Anthony Aguiar, VP of Sales and Business Development, Snipp Interactive
Last weekend I experienced a very unusual situation that made me think about customer satisfaction in the utility sector and the relationships that we as customers have with our energy and utility providers.
To set the stage, bear with me as I explain what happened:
- The entire southern half of our province was hit by a freak blizzard 30-60 days earlier than we typically get snow. Because the leaves were still on the trees, the thick, wet snow – a LOT of it – weighed down trees, which then toppled over and took out power lines in the process. The snow was so thick and wet that it even took out entire transmission lines.
- At one point throughout the first 4 days, a remarkable 250,000 customers were without power across the southern part of the province – nearly 20% of the population. Some neighbourhoods look like a tornado ripped through them because there are so many trees knocked down. During the first 36 hours, I heard siren after siren in the distance … ambulance, fire, police.
- We had no power at our house for 26 hours. Elsewhere, entire communities had their power wiped out. As of authoring this blog – 6 days after the storm first hit – there are still many smaller rural communities without power. Some have been advised not to flush toilets because the pumping stations which primarily run on electricity can’t keep up and there is fear that sewers will back up in basements. Some areas are expected to be offline for 1-2 more weeks. I just looked up the latest count: 410 outages still affecting 9,211 customers.
When this emergency hit – especially while I was in the dark stoking a woodfire to keep my living room warm for my wife and I – my Yogi brain kicked into high gear. I thought about the attachments we have to our daily lifestyles and the expectations we have of what we need and want. I focused on gratitude for what we have and what we forget is a blessing to us daily. But as the weekend unfolded, my marketing brain activated too. Here’s why …
Generally, I feel like I have no relationship with my utility provider. My house gets electricity and natural gas, both of which I take for granted. Seriously, when was the last time you plugged in your phone and thought “thank you for the electricity to power my phone”? When was the last time you opened the fridge and thought “my food didn’t spoil because electricity is powering the fridge”? You don’t. We don’t. But then I did during this storm.
My utility provider sends me a monthly bill which I pay on time; quarterly they ask me to submit my own meter reading; and life goes on. I’ve used some of their energy efficiency services in the past like an energy assessment for the house to qualify for incentives for attic insulation, and new furnace and air conditioning units. But those touchpoints were over a decade ago and I really haven’t thought much about my provider or our relationship – until now.
Here’s what I saw from my provider during the emergency which I was impressed with:
- An outage section on their website made it simple to report a power outage. The page showed a map of all outages in the province. Customers can zoom in and out of the map to view all the way down to the street and property level. The page also lists a count of the # of outages and # of customers affected by town, city or RM. The website was being updated in near-real time. While we were powerless and my phone was on power-saving mode, I checked it frequently. This website didn’t spontaneously appear; it’s been live for – my guess is years. I’d just never needed to use it.
- The website also appears to have a function that provides an estimated time for restoration. They declared during and since the emergency that because of the high volume of issues, they couldn’t provide ETAs. But the functionality exists, and I assume that under normal conditions, a homeowner can come to this website and easily understand what they’re dealing with.
- Did I mention the website was easy to find? The first result in my google search brought me to the outage page. Yay for SEO!
- They were constantly providing updates to customers on what was happening, reminders about safety with downed power lines and to not bring fuel-burning equipment like BBQs and propane stoves into closed spaces, suggestions to stay home and off the roads if travel wasn’t absolutely needed, and reminders to check in on friends and neighbours living near us or – when the roads were better – a safe traveling distance from us. Aside from their website, this communication came through many platforms including traditional (television & radio) as well as their own social media feeds (Facebook, Twitter and yes … even Instagram!).
The frontline workers have been and continue to be doing an amazing job restoring power working 16-hour shifts during ridiculous situation. The communications staff have been equally as impressive. Hydro workers from neighbouring provinces and states are now here pitching in as it’ll be a long and tough cleanup job.
So now what? Now I further inspect the relationship between utility and energy providers, and their customers. Here are a few additional thoughts on how to improve this bond:
- Strengthen Your Communication: Like the examples above, utility providers should embrace the power of digital technology to better communicate with customers. Make sure your website is clear on how to report issues and ask questions, utilizes tech to provide customers with updates on outages, educates them during normal situations and emergencies, and gives them peace of mind. Leverage social media to it’s fullest. I did a bit of research and there are many utility providers in North America who just aren’t using social media to the fullest. This isn’t rocket science – you likely have skilled people in your marketing department itching to implement a better social plan.
- Embrace Technology: There are tech companies that provide services to enable you to allow your customers to track their energy usage down to the appliance level. Energy efficiency is ultra-important given what we have been doing to our planet. Many of your customers want to reduce their carbon footprint. Move from a transactional relationship with your customers to a supportive one by giving them access to this data and these insights. It can only make them feel better about how you’re helping them to reverse the effect we’ve had on Mother Earth. If you’re currently partnered with one of these companies, listen to their ideas – all their ideas. They are going to help you innovate yourself. If you don’t currently work with one, find one.
- Energy Efficiency Incentives: Most utility providers give their customers the ability to apply and qualify for various energy efficiency rebates. This isn’t a new marketing tactic in the industry, but many providers are still delivering them as if we live in 1995. A few recommendations:
- Allow your customers to submit their rebates fully online. Not partially, fully. Get rid of physical mail altogether. Your customers expect more of you because most other industries are doing away with physical mail. Let customers communicate via web/text/email, let them take photos of their invoices of work they had done at their home, and let them submit online.
- Get the rebate back into your customers’ hands within hours to days, not weeks to months. Again, all other industries are doing this, and the customer expectation bar is much higher than it was 10-20 years ago.
- Provide your customers with a choice in rewards, preferably all digital like VISA prepaid digital cards, Amazon, and direct deposit. The industry research (and our experience at Snipp) is clear that customers want digital rewards not physical checks, they want choice, and they want their reward fast.
- If any of these recommendations seem either daunting or completely unachievable to you, call us at Snipp. We process more than 50,000 transactions daily in some of the biggest incentive programs where customers take photos of their invoices or receipts and submit them digitally to get rewarded. We provide a choice in digital rewards back to customers within 48 hours of them submitting their information. We help strengthen customer service, satisfaction and opinion while helping our clients think more innovatively and reducing their costs.
My parting words of advice?
- Always have emergency supplies on hand like bottled water, canned food (and a hand crank can opener, not an electric one), candles, matches and blankets.
- Always make sure you have a full tank of gas if you’re driving more than an hour, especially during times when weather patterns are volatile.
- Always be grateful for something in your life every day, even if it’s not every single time you plug in your phone. 😊
– Anthony Aguiar, VP of Sales and Business Development, Snipp Interactive
SnippRebates offers a mobile first solution to the broken “traditional” rebate model. It is driven by its flagship product, the Snipp RebateCenter, a one-of-a-kind, SaaS platform that allows Energy Providers in the public or private sector or any other company in the Utility Sector to set up and manage single-instance or cross-portfolio rebates at the click of a button, as well as providing customers and contractors a fully branded, digitized rebate experience. READ MORE HERE