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April 30, 2019
Customer experiences key to unlocking SMB value
By: Michael Dary

Last year I wrote an article about the untapped value inherent in energy providers’ small to medium business (SMB) segment. Too often, SMB customers have been served like residential consumers or their much larger commercial and industrial counterparts—neither of which is a fit. Fortunately, in both competitive and non-competitive markets, we are seeing a growing number of energy providers not only delivering a customer experience (CX) tailored to SMBs but also realizing the rewards of their SMB-focused investments.

What should that CX look like? For starters, it must go beyond simply adding more products or service channels. Leading providers are leveraging data and digital to enable connected personalization. They are building a 360-degree view of SMB customer preferences, energy usage history, location information and other contextual information. With that view, providers can anticipate SMBs’ needs and provide data-driven “news they can use” to address their business goals.

Crafting a sophisticated CX for SMBs is worth the investment—with potential returns that include greater movement to digital channels, lower cost to serve and greater adoption of new products and services. Even so, many energy providers aren’t “there” yet.

While overall satisfaction has increased from 60 percent in 2013 to 70 percent in 2018, there has been little movement in terms of a personalized, hyper-relevant experience for the SMB segment. In our latest SMB-focused New Energy Consumer study, SMB customers identified performance gaps in some critical areas, including personalized products and services, seamless customer experience and digital tools to help manage energy consumption.

Figure: SMBs value customer experience and personalization, but providers aren’t fully meeting expectations.

Click to expand.

As energy providers work to close those gaps, they stand to reap tangible rewards. Our study found that SMBs perceiving a higher level of personalization to their business needs are more satisfied with their current energy provider.

The success of one large eastern US utility further illustrates the potential. This utility began using new data from its smart meter rollout to send personalized monthly energy and cost reports to business customers via email. Rather than simply sharing granular usage information, the reports included insights on peak demand and weather impact—all individualized for each recipient. Customers could easily click through to learn more or connect to energy programs offered by the utility. These personalized communications have already delivered “open” and “click-through” rates triple the utility industry averages for email communications with business customers.

Higher engagement and satisfaction among these customers are likely to yield benefits beyond the SMB segment:

SMBs are more likely to recommend—not just to other businesses but also to residential customers. In our most recent New Energy Consumer study, 37 percent of SMB respondents told us they are “very likely” to do so. The likelihood to recommend their current energy provider is even higher (61 percent) among SMBs interested in or already participating in a digital energy engagement program.

SMB buyers are also residential consumers. Their experiences at work affect their behavior at home—suggesting that they have greater power beyond their business role to drive energy providers’ digital transformation programs.

In addition to engaging more digitally, SMB consumers are a valuable group for testing new products, services and offerings. Compared to residential customers, SMB managers are more likely to sign up for trials of new products and services. Our survey found that 83 percent are more likely to trial new energy-related products and services in their role as businesspeople than as residential consumers.

For SMBs, price and services will always remain important, but they are no longer the differentiators. Investing in a connected SMB CX will create a foundation to evolve the people, process and technology necessary to compete in the digital age.

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