The more you talk to customers, the unhappier they are … Huh? 
Published: Jul-26-12
A previous U-Blog shared research that shows, on average, residential utility customers spend about nine minutes per year actually interacting with their provider … and that many times it is a negative interaction (e.g., a billing error or dispute). At the same time, we’ve seen how new technologies and consumer behavior can lead to more, but different types of consumer interactions with utilities, which are more convenient (and happiness-inducing!) for customers. Here I am referring to the push-pull platforms for social media, for example.
So, depending on your perspective—gut check: do you serve “rate payers” or do you sell to “customers”? —it may surprise you to learn that, as our latest New Energy Consumer study shows, customer satisfaction and engagement actually decrease in direct proportion to the length of time consumers interact with their utility provider. Seems like quite a conundrum—I mean here we are trying to figure out how to engage customers more, all apparently at our peril.
As we all know, electricity and energy providers are not traditionally top of mind for consumers in the first place, though social, environmental and marketplace trends are changing that and driving greater levels of consumer interaction. Still, I was a little put off to read one study finding that says, “If consumers have interacted with their energy provider for more than one hour in the past year, satisfaction drops by 7 percent compared to those who have not interacted at all.”
Here’s what I think. Two variables distinguish good customer interaction and bad: (1) the content and (2) the method. Dealing with confusing bills or energy programs through the mail or by waiting in a call center queue is a quantum leap down from being informed by your utility via text messaging that you’ve earned airline points by saving on your energy spend. 
Precisely because rate payers are now customers (more apropos for deregulated markets, but it’s coming for all of us), retail energy providers must offer more than reliable service (that’s fundamental), they must offer an experience, which means using the same tools and offers that other retailers are using, with great effect, since they spend a lot more than nine minutes interacting with happy customers.
What kinds of new experiences are you creating for your customers?

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About the Author
Greg Guthridge leads the Accenture Energy Consumer Services group. Over the past 20 years, he has led and managed customer service-r...
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