The importance of customer satisfaction is nothing new to the utility industry. We all understand intuitively that the happier customers are, the more likely they are to participate in programs and drive company success. And utilities have taken this issue seriously in recent years—resulting in the sixth consecutive year of improved satisfaction with residential electric utility companies, according to the J.D. Power 2017 Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study.
Still, if the utilities of today are to become the utilities of the future, they must continue making strides to enhance customers’ experience and deepen their engagement. They must ask the hard questions. What factors truly impact customer satisfaction in an increasingly mature market? How do we translate customer satisfaction into positive results for our company?
For many utilities, the answer has been simple: data. Data is received at each stage of the customer journey, giving utilities a shocking level of insight into their behavior—from how long they keep their lights on every day to how they make their purchasing decisions. Several energy service companies have developed innovative tools to leverage this data to increase utility customer satisfaction and boost adoption of programs and products. For instance, Ecova’s own Digital Engagement Solution, built on the Retroficiency Analytics Platform, has consistently helped utilities quadruple customer engagement and participation rates.
But data alone cannot ensure that customer satisfaction rates continue to rise or that satisfied customers take advantage of utility-sponsored programs. For that, utilities have to focus on the human element of this issue, beginning with the people on their frontline.
Creating an exceptional customer experience depends on people, not just systems. It’s about knowing customers well, understanding their unique touchpoints and reaching them in a meaningful way at those crucial junctures. For most utility customers, the most influential touchpoint is not monthly bills or hardware—it’s the people they deal with along the way. Any utility employee, vendor employee or third-party representative that engages with a customer has the potential to impact their overall satisfaction, whether it’s through a direct install offering, incentive processing, community outreach or an energy audit. Ensuring that your employees and your vendors’ employees are themselves happy with their workplace and knowledgeable about utility services positions them to positively impact the customer experience. If utilities truly take customer satisfaction seriously, they will view employee engagement as a fundamental part of the equation.
This theory is substantiated across the market. Again and again, the companies that are leaders in customer experience demonstrate a strong commitment to employee engagement. Southwest Airlines and The Walt Disney Company, often held as gold standards for prioritizing customer satisfaction, are two excellent examples. Employee engagement underpins all Disney’s interactions with their “cast members,” from ensuring that people are comfortable in their roles to a continuous five-stage training process to cultivating an emotional connection between employees and the company. Southwest, named number one in customer satisfaction by the U.S. Department of Transportation, creates a fun and inclusive team-based environment—with a strategic vision that makes employees feel they’re working for a common purpose. These two corporate role models demonstrate how effective employee engagement motivates staff to take truly exceptional care of customers.
In the service-driven utility industry, employees represent the public face of the organization for most customers. Taking steps like seeking out vendors with strong employee engagement programs or publishing an internal corporate responsibility report ensures that those on the frontline are truly engaged in the company they represent, with powerful potential for the customer experience. By learning from leading companies, utilities can radically transform their approach to customer satisfaction and secure future success for their business.
Ecova has seen the benefits of dedicated employee engagement efforts firsthand. Our holistic approach includes a culture strategy, employee training and rewards programs, leadership development and soon, a dedicated employee engagement manager. Read our annual Corporate Responsibility Report to learn how we’re holding ourselves accountable to the people that make our work possible every day.