Winning the energy utility digital experience game
While recently researching technology adoption curves, I noticed many readily available illustrations begin with the emergence of the electrical grid. That seems to be a sensible entry point to the discussion because so many of the most important innovations since then have relied on the rapidly expanding availability of affordable, reliable energy. Modern telecommunications depend on it entirely. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, there are no iPhones without lines and poles. Unlike so many of the innovations since electricity emerged, the energy utility sector has avoided disruption with an incredibly dependable playbook.
An extremely high-cost barrier to entry and extensive regulation traditionally made it all but impossible for new entrants to penetrate the space. But the era of regional natural monopolies is rapidly declining. And as that phase ends, so begins the era of competition, but one crucial question I don’t often hear anyone in utilities ask is: Competition for what?
One of the most interesting things I learned when I began consulting in retail energy is the supply side effectively treats sustainability and efficiency as an extractable resource. This counter-intuitive revelation happens because it is far less expensive to incentivize customers to be more efficient with the energy available than it is to spool up additional capacity. In other words, utilities have a disincentive to pick up additional market share and selling more energy per customer is simply not a consideration.In the era of accelerating change, one reliable constant is an individual customer’s maximum capacity for attention. And getting customers to change their behavior enough to move the needle with efficiency requires a considerable amount of this finite resource. Until now, the best play has been to entice energy consumers with discounts and rebates for using more efficient appliances and lighting. But as efficient equipment become ubiquitous, the rebate game offers diminishing returns.
There is good news. It is possible to effectively and reliably increase access to customer attention by providing exceptional customer experiences, and the tools required to achieve this goal are ubiquitous. The bad news is, when it comes to the experience, customer expectations are set by leaders with a significant head start in terms of people, process, and technology. And when it comes to gaining a share of any customer’s attention, experience leaders are the competition.
Avoid disruption with exceptional digital experience
Many years ago, some brilliant analyst declared that customer experience was the last remaining source of competitive advantage. While this claim is still credible, more than a decade on, excellent customer experience has become table-stakes for leaders in digital.
What’s interesting is the length leaders in digital experience products and services will go to understand their customers’ wants and needs. Consider Google, one of the undisputed heavyweight champions of digital experience management. Their drive to provide the most relevant search and traffic inventory to their advertisers lead them on an obsessive journey to understand, analyze, and predict consumer behavior.
Most recently, this competition for understanding drove Google right in our living rooms. Products like Nest and Google Home now intermediate our relationship with energy and energy consuming products while generating breathtaking depths of data utilities could undoubtedly leverage.
But beyond the data, the ability to directly influence energy consumption with a product like Nest has thought-provoking implications on the energy utility side. Imagine a scenario where an energy consumer opts-in to a program allowing the utility to moderate individual household energy consumption for maximum efficiency? This strategy would certainly be more straightforward than convincing customers to make the right choices with energy use multiple times a day, every day.
As the cost of such technology goes down, there will likely be opportunities for utilities to “roll their own” solution with similar or better capabilities. In the meantime, everything has a price. Google would probably benefit from partnerships with local utilities, but beware! Thermostats are not the only place Google is placing their bets in the energy utility industry.
Nevertheless, the most important lesson here for aspiring masters of digital experience is Google’s relentless obsession with customers. Earlier I pointed out access to the tools are ubiquitously available -but tools are only part of the equation. Expert organizations know it takes tools, talent, and strategy to win this competition. Most organizations focus a lot of energy on enabling customer experience management technology because it demands significant upfront research and capital investment to acquire.
And it is incredibly popular to acquire new technology. In fact, according to the 2019 Ascend2 Marketing Technology Utilization Survey, a majority of companies buy new marketing technology every quarter, according to Spend on Marketing Technology now accounts for 29% of the total marketing budget (including ad spend!) according to the 2018/2019 Gartner CMO Spend Survey.
Acquiring new tools is not enough, to win this competition. We could spend days exploring what’s next, once the technology is selected. For now, it’s sufficient to point out the most common and critical gaps around strategy and personnel. Fortunately, the notion that capital expenditures will require long-term care and maintenance is no surprise in the energy utility industry.
While it’s right to say the leaders in experience management have a great head start, all this experience is shared quite freely. As a result, the pathway forward is not quite the mystery it once was.
At the very highest level, the key to rolling out a new seamless and cohesive omnichannel customer experience breaks down into three phases. The first two are on-ramps rolling out experience management for the first time and, except for technology selection, might be repeated annually. The third phase must happen early, and often as the organization learns and adjusts their approach:
- Customer research
- Stakeholder interviews
- Journey mapping
- Engagement mapping
- Technology selection
- Organizational data and technology topography
- Experience design
- Technology integration and configuration
- Content creation
- Personalization rules integration
- Optimize A/B and Multivariate Test
- Measure and Analyze results
- Refine approach
We’ve got the tools; now we need the talent
Another common problem occurs when organizations treat their new experience management system as a sophisticated version of the content management system it replaced. There are many reasons for this, but they all boil down to cost and time. Avoid becoming the owner of an experience management platform with no training or additional headcount. The panic is real; I’ve seen it countless times.
Experience management demands more content, not less. Personalization also forces organizations to improve their ability to create further nuanced content with a sophisticated approach to information, voice, and tone for different audiences at different stages of their journey with the brand.
Delivering an exceptional managed experience also demands additional team members with skills in digital strategy, product management, and measurement and optimization. It is quite commonly necessary to go outside for help with these essential capabilities until the team can be augmented.
Another significant barrier to succeeding in the experience space is operational silos. An individual experience management professional with a mandate to champion the customer at any stage in their journey can run circles around a team of hundreds hindered by organizational calcification. It’s up to leadership to ensure this does not happen.
Bring the energy
These days, organizations need to know what they are competing for and how to win that game. Fortunately, there are answers to most of the big questions about how to succeed with experience management. Organizations contemplating how to deliver a new energy utility experience to the customers they serve have resources at their disposal that did not exist five years ago.
To learn more about how to improve the digital experience for your energy or utility company, download a copy of the Utility Digital Experience Index.Tags: Content, Customer Experience, Digital Experience, Digital Transformation, Energy, Strategy, Utilities