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It’s business unusual in the digital energy marketplace

How energy providers should respond to meet consumer expectations and increase satisfaction and return.

Each day, 80 percent of smartphone users check social media within 15 minutes of waking, and that’s just in the United States. Consumers, including energy consumers, are digitally connected. They know how they want to interact with energy providers, and the providers who respond could reap the dividends in terms of increased satisfaction and return.

Digital is no longer simply a channel—it is a way of life. According to Accenture’s New Energy Consumer research, since 2012, consumer preference for Web-enabled channels has increased across six of seven primary interaction points. Many of these interactions, such as resolving billing issues and switching providers, were previously dominated by traditional call center interaction. In addition, this year’s study, which will be released in June, found that more than two-thirds of consumers who are digital channel users are satisfied with their energy provider. Contrast that against the 58 percent who indicated satisfaction among consumers who use non-digital channels and you begin to see some of the attraction to adapting a business strategy for digital.

Energy consumers are embracing social media and mobility in their everyday lives, and widening this circle to include their various product and service providers. Consumers are welcoming connected home solutions and insights into their usage via a variety of mobile apps. They’re seeking more and better service delivered through virtual channels beyond regular business hours. In short, they have a growing expectation of an “always-on” energy provider. For energy providers, that means “business as usual” is giving way to “business unusual.”

With this increased connectivity comes increased consumer expectation of what their energy experience should look like. At the very least, they will expect their energy experience to be on par with the digital experience delivered by their other service providers, if not better. In our latest research, nearly one-third of consumers said they actually expect more from their energy provider—an expectation amplified among younger consumers.

Think “omnichannel”
Our New Energy Consumer research program has found that utilities cannot simply master the mechanics of interaction. They must also actively address the changing expectations and preferences of new energy consumers who are increasingly social, mobile and connected. What’s more, consumers are looking for a seamless, easy and convenient experience across interactions. We found that 40 percent of younger consumers are interested in using social media credentials to log in to their energy provider’s portal. This is a critical shift for energy providers—building and managing innovative channels, devices and interaction types. The next generation of consumers expects anytime, anywhere interaction—an experience that Accenture describes as omnichannel, and energy providers need to be ready to deliver.

Deliver a digital experience
While our research underscores the digital imperative, succeeding in the digital energy marketplace will require much more than just a higher utilization of online or mobile channels. To begin, a “dual-consumer” relationship should be the basis for reinventing consumer interaction. This approach focuses on delivering excellence across a few channels—balancing effective self-service for basic transactions with higher-touch, more personal channels for high-value interactions.

Next, a seamless experience requires an enterprise mindset throughout a customer organization—the breaking down of traditional organizational and technological silos. Many utilities are still being held back by a fractured channel landscape with limited cross-channel analytics. With an expanding channel mix and process set spanning the organization, energy providers must break down traditional silos and channel ownership to drive digital transformation. Despite these barriers—as well as challenges in virtual channel adoption and usage—the opportunity to fundamentally shift the interaction paradigm is here now.

The shift to digital has become an urgent imperative in the face of dynamic markets, disruptive technologies and intensifying competition from traditional players and new entrants alike. Successful, visionary energy providers will be those that view the digital revolution not as a chore but as a chance to create an entirely new interaction model—one that positions for future growth and opportunities for themselves and for the new energy consumer.

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