Accenture Interactive recently launched the 2021 Fjord Trends, our fourteenth year unpicking how consumers are changing and what that means for the businesses that serve them. And what a year it’s been.

We’re seeing long-held assumptions about what consumers want, how they expect to be served and how adaptable they are falling away. And in a year when telemedicine became the norm, and Zoom birthday parties were serious business, every standard benchmark on consumer attitudes and actions became obsolete overnight.

The 2021 Fjord Trends will permeate industries in different ways. Read our utilities perspective for the detail about the five trends we believe will shape energy retail as we move forward.

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But here’s a taster. Overall, we think the trends represent a re-leveling of the playing field for energy retailers. And an opportunity for them to recast their relationships, services, and brand recognition. Ultimately, to reposition from commodity provider to collaborator and contributor to people’s lives. And become businesses’ trusted partner in the energy transition.

How? Here is a snapshot of two of the most relevant trends for energy retailers.

Collective Displacement

When footfall on the high street is gone, traditional advertising (think bus, poster, store window) no longer works. It creates a vacuum and represents a more level playing field for industries like utilities, who aren’t traditionally the visible, high-street advertisers. When no brands are being seen, all brands are more equal.

Meanwhile, the way customers engage with companies has also been shaken to its core. Customers have had to change channels fast, with online customer experience increasingly the norm across industries. Customers have adopted and adapted in unprecedented ways.

And it adds up to a once-in-a-generation openness for new relationships with companies.

So what’s the delta for energy retailers? It means there’s now a window for them to recast their relationships with consumers through strong product and service experiences (rather than old-fashioned advertising). Example: energy retailers can transcend the standard billing relationship with consumers and become a trusted electric vehicle (EV) charging partner. That might mean leasing you a car; installing your charger; figuring out the best green tariff to charge it; helping you upgrade to the next generation of EV as it comes online.

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These services have the chance to perform along every single touchpoint with the brands promise and purpose along with the excellence in experience they provide to the customer.

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And this is equally true in a business to business (B2B) scenario. Every business is going to need a trusted partner for the ever-pressing energy transition. Another window for energy retailers to move in and occupy that space.

Interaction Wanderlust

And for consumers, so much of this comes down to the stories energy retailers tell them and engage them in.

In 2021, people are searching for connection, meaning, cohesiveness of experience.

For energy retailers it means connecting the dots for their customers, many of whose energy bills will have gone through the roof over the past year! So how do you engage those people? Tell them the story when you send them the bill. Provide content and information around their numbers and the impact, each of us has on climate changes, less pollution, water saving. So e.g. their costs are up, but their green tariff meant their carbon impact was much lower than it could have been. Quantify that impact and make it meaningful (in terms of cars on the road for instance).

Humanity, relevance and personalization will be central to how energy retailers communicate. And the corollary is that misdirected information will turn a customer off like never before. If you live in an apartment, do you want to hear about solar panels? Maybe, but only if it’s handled the right way! You want a panel but don’t have your own roof? No problem. Choose it from the solar farm and rent it.

It’s also about channels, technologies and experiences that delight. We know customers are now far more ready to try immersive technologies when dealing with companies. And video boiler diagnostics are already happening, with the engineer one end of the country and the customer at another. Meanwhile, Chinese EV maker NIO has embraced live streaming for car viewing, having used it to drive sales while dealerships were closed.

But this also holds for energy retailer employees, where experiences are equally vital. For instance, Chevron is already equipping field technicians with Microsoft Hololens for routine maintenance tasks. Using Hololens means technicians can get remote technical help while performing challenging tasks, improving efficiency and effectiveness.

But operations will need to keep up

For energy retailers, the 2021 Fjord Trends also represent a recalibration of operational norms. For example, residential energy consumption patterns will change as people work and learn more from home and expect more comfort in their home “multiverse.” And as a result planned daytime outages for maintenance may have to become a thing of the past.

Contact centers, channels, personalization will also require new systems, processes and investments, with cloud a key lever in keeping some or all agents remote and flexible. And all that interaction means a focus on green cloud will be key.

It’s going to require energy retailers to reshape not only how they deal with customer contacts; rather, how they provide service to both businesses and consumers.

But the opportunity is big for those who can rise to the occasion. Contact us to talk more about how.

Annette Rust

Senior Manager – Interactive, Utilities Lead – Europe

Richard Wilshire

Principal Design Director — Fjord, part of Accenture Interactive

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