ICMI is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


A Shocking Look at the Customer Experience in Utilities Companies

Customer expectations are always changing and evolving. To keep up, many companies are focusing more efforts on building a customer-centric culture, and driving Customer Experience improvements. While many industries have adopted an omnichannel strategy that enables a seamless Customer Experience, there are still some industries that leave much to be desired.

Let's be honest, the utility industry as a whole is not keeping up with providing an exceptional customer experience, but the industry can no longer afford to relegate the customer experience to the back of the shelf.  With more and more retailers developing innovative solutions to exceed customer expectations, utility companies need to start stepping up.

Utilities customer experience

How Bad Customer Service Hurts a Utility Company

Bad news travels fast, especially in the internet age. Customers are increasingly vocal about bad customer experiences and are using social media to draw attention and drive change. Customers are also more aware of what excellent service entails, and given the presence of large customer-friendly retailers, are less willing to tolerate poor service.

In 2016, for instance, Scottish Power had to pay £18M for "poor customer service."  In an article published by The Guardian, the regulator Ofgem, who issued the fine, said that Scottish Power had failed to provide even the basic level of service required, attracting more than one million customer complaints between June 2013 and December 2015.

Reasons Why Utility Companies Struggle with Customer Service

Here are some key areas that utility companies need to focus on to improve the customer experience:

  • Cost vs. Service - In the past, the costs associated with improving the customer experience were a considerable deterrent to constructive change. However, this is no longer an excuse, as there are multiple options to cover the associated costs of both technology and implementation.
  • Product Development - Utility companies need to develop products that are geared more towards what customers want and need. They need to listen to customer feedback and surveys and use them to generate more options for customer-friendly products. In addition, utilities leaders need to be willing to stay informed of industry trends and to innovate.
  • Customer Culture - Utility companies can do a better job developing a customer culture which focuses on interpersonal and problem resolution skills. These are two areas which are consistently weak in their service. Traditionally, all the focus has been on getting things done as opposed to also providing a customer-centric experience. Think about it - how would you feel if you were treated as a task rather than a valued customer?

How to Get Things Right

The good news is, it doesn't need to be a very costly or complicated mission to improve a utility company's customer service culture.

Here are some guidelines:

  • Map out the customer journey! The journey is more complicated than your customers paying a bill. Document all the possible customer touchpoints to truly understand how you can accommodate all your customers' needs.
  • Review the internal processes you have in place that impact the customer experience. Who has ownership of which processes? Are they clearly defined?
  • Implement customer surveys and feedback forms and make concerted efforts to implement corrective measures in service wherever needed.
  • A study by J.D. Power shows that utilities "are among the lowest-performing industry groups when it comes to delivering distinct digital customer experiences," except for a few industry pioneers. To improve the customer experience, utility companies need to set up a multi-channel approach for customers to be able to reach them and engage with them. Some examples of channels to consider are telephone, chatbots, email, social media, and online chat.
  • Implement 24/7 access to live agents and emergency support.
  • Extend service to include more hours over the weekends and holidays.
  • Offer online services for usage tracking, payments, and complaint logging.
  • Send reminders for technician visits or outage periods.
  • Make it easy for customers to steup, change, or upgrade services.
  • Build community-friendly forums that help customers understand how they can save on bills and reduce usage costs.

Ultimately, I believe that changing the Customer Experience cannot come without ownership from the top level of your organization. Your CEO must be invested in the Customer Experience and must ensure that all departments are accountable for doing their share in delivering excellent customer service. If you are in the utility and energy sector, I would love to hear your thoughts on customer experience in your organization. I am sure there are success stories out there for the utility industry - maybe what is needed to spark a change is to show the change. So, please, feel free to share how your utility company is transforming the way your industry delivers the Customer Experience.