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Play to win in the new energy retail ecosystem

Accenture sees three strategic customer plays for utilities—and one for the future.

With macro forces fueling constant change and consumer expectations growing ever higher, Accenture identifies three strategic customer plays—and one to grow on.

The world has gone topsy-turvy for energy providers. A groundswell of change and disruption is fueling new forms of innovation. It’s giving rise to new routes to consumers. And it’s enabling new, often unexpected competition. How can energy providers position themselves to thrive in this new energy ecosystem?

Start by understanding the macro forces: unrelenting technological change, economic uncertainty and a regulatory shift toward distributed and customer-centric markets. Study shifting consumer behaviors and preferences, including the desire for seamless, personalized and meaningful experiences, and a growing embrace of sharing economy models. Then choose where and how to play. Accenture sees three primary options:

  • Commodity-centric Operator. A Commodity-centric Operator is “lean and automated,” with a focus on low cost and high reliability. Its unique feature is operationally excellent, intuitive customer service with a digital twist. It’s ideal for customers who want to minimize time and effort on managing the purchase and consumption of energy. Despite limited engagement, these customers want convenient, effortless and instant service.

  • Energy Marketplace Enabler. An Energy Marketplace Enabler focuses on building relationships and managing transactions in the new energy ecosystem. It aspires to be a partner and trusted advisor to customers who expect more than just energy from their energy provider. In competitive markets, target customers will likely be sporadic-to-regular switchers; in regulated markets, customers will be traditional optimizers who keep an eye on costs.

  • Connected Lifestyle Provider. A Connected Lifestyle Provider is the partner of choice for the collaborative, connected home of the future—playing into customers’ lifestyles and streamlining all sorts of everyday necessities. Its customers will be knowledgeable, with a prosumer mindset and a willingness to invest time in consumption management and optimization. These customers are also tech savvy, interested in new energy-related technologies and driven more by personal values than monetary benefits.

Depending on consumer trends and geographic span, most utilities will likely adopt elements of all three. The key: achieving the right balance to align with evolving consumer values and market forces.

A fourth play—for the future
Energy providers that will succeed in the long term are thinking beyond current mainstream trends. They’re developing the business acumen to monitor and understand the strategic implications of emerging trends—and they’re actively exploring new technologies and determining how to use and monetize them. Looking ahead, Accenture sees the Energy Ecosystem Disruptor emerging as a fourth category of customer play—and a critical trend to follow and understand as digital transaction processing, open platforms and artificial intelligence continue to progress.

Don’t wait
Given the pace and complexity of change, we believe energy providers are on a journey across the continuum of plays, and we recommend a proactive approach. Deciding to “wait and see” is likely to result in limited growth and a declining revenue base. Instead, leading utilities are working to understand their consumer base and the desired engagement curves. They’re identifying their customer plays and required investments for the future. And they realize they must “earn the right to play” in the new energy ecosystem—and can do so by strengthening foundational capabilities as they move forward.