Energy providers are at the heart of the global energy transition. But do customers know what energy providers are doing—to help themselves and others—to move to net-zero?
Consumers are increasingly seeking brands that align with their values—and they are prepared to switch if energy providers fall short. It is all the more important, then, that energy providers make existing and potential customers aware of their efforts.
Purpose-led business is an opportunity
A company’s approach to social and environmental goals increasingly shapes its relationship with its customers— and it also influences the bottom line.
According to Accenture’s latest Global Consumer Pulse research, 48% of consumers say they are more likely to purchase a product or service from a gas or electric utility provider that excels at purpose factors, such as those relating to the environment. And 35% say they would be more likely to pay a premium to a gas or electric utility provider that delivers on those factors.
That makes purpose a significant market opportunity, a fact that is widely recognized: globally, 97% of CxOs believe it is important to strengthen their organization’s commitment to purpose.
But according to our new global survey of 500 energy providers, many are struggling to seize that opportunity because they lack a compelling story about their purpose.
of energy providers say their inability to find a purpose or narrative to engage customers is a barrier to improving the customer experience.
This engagement challenge is a problem. Axel Löber, E.ON’s Senior Vice President Global Brand & Marketing, warns that the industry risks falling off a “cliff of irrelevance” as far as consumers are concerned, when they should be considered as “a key lever for sustainable development for our entire society.” “Consumers generally don't care about energy—at least until it’s not there,” he says. “Many people don't even know who their energy supplier is. And, if they know, they're not really interested.” So, how to overcome this? “By translating your business model into an emotional brand story that addresses the real questions of consumers. And, of course, by bringing it to life with great customer experiences,” says Löber.
Purpose is not a side hustle
Purpose will only transform the customer experience if it is core to the company, says Steven Van Belleghem, an expert in digital customer experiences. “Purpose is about saying, ‘How can we use our strengths to add value to a certain challenge that the world has?’” he says.
“The closer that challenge is to your business, the more impact it will have on the customer relationship. Plenty of companies are doing great things. But, very often, their frustration is that the customer isn't aware of it—and that's because it's on the side. If it's on the side, it has no impact on your customers,” he adds.
For the energy sector, no challenge is closer to the business than net-zero. If energy providers can explain how they are helping to meet the challenge, suggests Van Belleghem, they can transcend the transactional billing relationship traditionally found in utilities to create “in-depth and emotional relationships.” The aim, he argues, should be to become a “partner in life”—a trusted advisor that continually meets customers’ needs.
This means linking purpose to every part of the customer experience, for both residential and commercial customers, as part of a relentless focus on customers’ new and emerging needs. This is a holistic approach we call the Business of Experience (BX).
Bring purpose to life by giving customers what they need
When it comes to net-zero, meeting new needs might mean helping consumers switch to cleaner technologies; using smart solutions to reduce bills; supporting disadvantaged groups in accessing green power; or providing credibility to and solutions for business customers’ and partners’ ESG goals.
E.ON, for instance, has interpreted its statement of purpose—“to provide decentralized, green, and interconnected solutions that address the needs of our customers and those of the environment”—to create an expanding range of services. This includes smart home technologies; boiler and heat-pump installations; offering support to access green government grants; and solar panel and storage solutions, as well as EV-charging solutions. “That’s an opportunity because something intangible like energy, all of a sudden, becomes tangible. The formerly invisible brand is suddenly all around you when it comes to e-mobility infrastructure or the solar panels on your roof,” says Löber.
Speak to the heart not just the head
To show that they are acting with purpose, energy providers need to tell stories that make their technical work meaningful to customers. They need to speak to the heart, not just the head, engaging customers (and employees) as stakeholders in change.
Compelling narratives are critical to winning engagement on the net-zero challenge—but they should also reflect the company’s wider ambitions to impact social sustainability. One increasingly important dimension of this, according to Accenture’s 2022 Fjord Trends, is the issue of how we care for each other—from friends and family, to the vulnerable in society. In all sectors, organizations need to show how they embed care into their offerings.
One energy company with a powerful narrative about care is Stockholm Exergi. Its Memory Lane project, the world’s first conversational AI solution, raises awareness about loneliness among older people by helping them share their stories.
Another is Electric Ireland, which has supported suicide-prevention charity Pieta and its annual Darkness into Light fundraising campaign since 2013 . In 2020, with the pandemic restricting activities, Electric Ireland supported an urgent appeal that raised €4 million for Pieta . It was a powerful illustration of the company’s brand promise—We’re Brighter Together—being fulfilled.
Energy providers are pivotal to the transition to net-zero. It is a compelling mission which should be at the heart of any energy provider’s purpose—but each company needs to go deeper, to define its own purpose and reflect honestly on the impact it wants to make on society.
To stay relevant to consumers, energy providers need to put purpose at the center of their businesses, embedding it in the customer experience—and then make sure that people hear about it.
On purpose: How to show customers you mean business
Articulate and embed your purpose. It is not enough to explain how the business adds value to society’s net-zero challenge. To be credible, purpose must be tangible, relevant to customers, and actionable—there is little point in an over-ambitious purpose that can never be realized.
Align your purpose with customers’ expectations. This starts with developing a deep understanding of residential, commercial, and industrial customers, and what they want, through data-acquisition tools and technologies. By upskilling dedicated teams and arming them with this insight, it is possible to align your purpose with customer demand, creating a virtuous circle that simultaneously reinforces loyalty and brand reputation.
Use purpose to craft a brand narrative that helps consumers connect with you at an emotional level and establishes a rationale for new products and services. Showcase your achievements and share hard evidence of your impact. For commercial customers, partnering with an energy provider with a credible brand narrative can mitigate reputational risks. Engage and involve customers in shaping the net-zero future and in your work to support social sustainability. Make purpose consistent with your approach to innovation.