Zeroing in on the new energy consumer
Energy providers are at the heart of delivering the energy transition, and their strategic landscape is being transformed as the global effort to reach net-zero gathers pace.
At the same time, they are facing a second era-defining dynamic: digital transformation is disrupting markets across the economy, destroying old business models as it creates new ones, and reshaping consumer expectations.
Can energy providers survive this period of tumultuous change?
To do so, they must pay close attention to consumers and their changing demands. Now is the moment to redefine what it means to be an energy provider, with an expanded focus on new services and solutions that go far beyond a commodity offering. The energy providers of the future will be low-carbon, digitally powered, and relentlessly customer-focused.
The pace of clean energy transition is accelerating
Our New Energy Consumer research series is now in its 12th year and builds on findings dating back to 2010. In our latest research, we draw on the opinions of 500 energy providers across 14 countries to look at what it takes to become an energy provider of the future.
Incumbents know that there are deep shifts under way in the market and that the competitive threat from new players is intensifying. In the UK, for example, 6m customers switched energy provider in 2020, according to Energy UK. This figure has increased from 3.2m in 2014.
To retain market share and survive over the long term, energy providers must continue to innovate, diversify, and build world-leading customer experiences.
To meet evolving consumer demands, energy providers will need a new level of agility and responsiveness. Most say that their business is in the middle of that evolution.
However, this will not be an easy transition for a highly regulated industry that has operated in relative stasis for the past 100 years. Reshaping that culture to place greater emphasis on innovation and the customer will take time. Meanwhile, agile cloud-native start-ups threaten to win over restless consumers with their technology-enabled responsiveness to customer needs.
The question for large energy providers is how to reimagine customer experience. The answer lies in an approach that spans five important areas of their businesses: purpose, products, platforms, people, and partnerships.
Time to focus on energy customer engagement
Reimagining customer experience starts with a frank assessment of the current customer relationship. For most consumers, energy providers are almost invisible. All they expect is a transactional billing relationship—and, traditionally, that is all they have received.
But that relationship is now too limited. It stops energy providers from involving consumers in a broader conversation about how their emerging needs, such as a desire for more efficient energy services, can be met. The transition gives energy providers an opportunity to replace the old model and engage consumers in a dialogue about how they can contribute to net-zero targets.
Purpose is at the root of new relationships and products
The foundation of this new customer relationship is purpose. Energy providers need to tell a new, compelling story about the role they play in society, which will engage and inspire their customers.
With a strong brand purpose and narrative, energy providers will be able to start conversations about customers’ other needs— beyond, but interwoven with, commodity supply. This will help them to meet customers’ requirements while offering exceptional customer experience. We call this the Business of Experience (BX).
So, an energy provider that puts the energy transition at the core of its defined purpose can work with customers to help them be more sustainable, both at home and in their business operations, and build a relationship with the customer that goes beyond the transactional.
Opportunities abound for new products and services. Energy providers can help customers optimize their energy consumption by offering them more efficient appliances at home. For businesses, they can support the switch to renewably generated electricity, and make the most of electrification opportunities such as e-mobility.
Gear up for the new customer relationship
To seize new opportunities, energy providers need to be bold in building up their capabilities. This means they will need new technologies; the right skills; and productive, collaborative relationships.
New platforms, powered by the cloud, will allow them to integrate customer data across businesses; learn more about those customers’ requirements; and expand their use of AI and machine learning to derive valuable, actionable insights.
But technology is of little use without the right people. The battle for digital talent is fierce. Energy providers need to make sure their employee experience attracts and retains people with critical skills in areas such as AI, data science, and customer experience; setting out a clear purpose can also help to draw in new talent. Learning and development opportunities to upskill and progress the existing workforce are also critical to adjusting to the pace of the market.
Partnerships are another piece of the puzzle. These will allow energy providers to focus on the strategic imperative to build strong positions in new markets—electric vehicles (EVs), for example, and other low-carbon initiatives—and they can be complemented by acquisitions and investment in in-house innovation.
Energy providers can also help bring together cohesive offerings for end-consumers by participating actively in ecosystems with non-traditional partners.
The energy provider of the future must take charge now
The convergence of the low-carbon energy transition and digital transformation is changing everything for energy providers. The energy provider of the future will look very different from those in today’s market; at the heart of that change is a reimagined customer relationship. In the energy sector, taking charge of the future must begin now.
About the research
Accenture conducted a global survey of 502 senior executives to capture insights into developments in the B2B and B2C energy retail sector. The survey was conducted from August 2021 through October 2021 across 14 countries.
1 6 million customers switch energy supplier in 2020. Energy UK. January 2021.
2 Another record year for switching. Energy UK. January 2019.