On the first day of 2020, the global economy entered its tenth successive year of continuous growth. Some people were already talking about the Roaring ‘20s for the 21st century. Then, a couple of months later, the coronavirus pandemic hit, triggering the most damaging recession in generations. It affected just about every sector imaginable.
In the energy industry, the greatly reduced demand for electricity was the direct and most devastating consequence of COVID-19, but the pandemic brought about another change too: many energy companies made customer communication and engagement one of their immediate priorities.
Keeping in touch
Utilities today are well aware that their consumers might switch to another energy supplier if they are not satisfied with their current provider. The degree of customer satisfaction mainly depends on the experience clients have when interacting with their supplier. In our digital age, people not only expect efficient products and services, but also the opportunity to be in charge whenever possible. They want their issues resolved with a minimum of delay, interference or fuss. So, some customer communication management now takes place online, on the energy company’s website, and it does not require human interaction on the supplier’s part, or at least not instantly – think about chatbots and contact forms. However, types of written communication, both traditional and digital, are still absolutely integral to customer communication.
A survey carried out in late 2020 by Commify, a UK-based company specializing in mobile business communications, found that 35.8% of finance and utility companies had increased the number of their business messages (SMS) to both potential and existing customers. Only roughly 13% of those were marketing and promotional messages; the vast majority (about 70%) were related to account updates, customer service updates, delivery information and appointment management – in other words, purely business activities. In spite of text messages becoming more and more common, using letters or emails remains the most popular method of contacting customers.
Sending out an email or a letter might seem like the easiest thing in the world, but you shouldn’t let that fool you. As a matter of fact, whether we talk about content or design, quite a bit of planning is required upfront. Just like any other businesses, energy utilities have a lot to consider if they are going to make sure that their customers open letters or emails, let alone read them. The following statements, all of which have been borne out by research conducted by Ipsos MORI, give you an idea of the number of things to keep in mind when planning and executing customer communication.
- Letters are more likely to be opened if they are personalized (rather than addressed to “homeowner” or “present occupier”)
- The branding on and/or the color of the envelope affects the likelihood of it being opened (and of the actual letter then being read)
- Many customers only pay attention to the information that interests them (and ignore the rest)
- Email subject lines should encourage opening, without making promises that are not fulfilled in the body of the email
Clearly, personalization is essential. Building loyalty (and boosting sales) through personalized marketing is of course not a novel idea, but energy companies did not really feel the need to adopt that strategy until recently. But now that the energy sector is undergoing a fundamental transformation, driven by market deregulation and democratization as well as digitalization, utilities realize that customer churn is a real threat that can only be met through personalization. A study by Gartner has shown that companies run the risk of losing up to 38% of their customers due to poor personalization, while McKinsey & Company has found that effective personalized content can result in a 10% (or higher) increase in sales.
In fact, when it comes to customer expectations, energy providers have an advantage over other companies, especially those in retail: they know their clients better. Due to contractual relationships that have existed for years, energy utilities have specific data on their clients’ consumption and behavior, which they can use to great effect in customer communication. Having all that information at their disposal also makes customer acquisition possible as utilities can run campaigns to target potential customers – street data, for instance, helps companies find out if there is demand for photovoltaic installations at a particular location.
Mastering personalization, though essential, is only one of the challenges customer communication management poses, however. We also need to consider the technical aspects.
Providing a platform
Energy suppliers have hundreds of thousands or even millions of customers – the corresponding volume of communication is immense. To handle it effectively, a customer communication management platform is required, one that can be integrated with core applications such as customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. The service architecture also needs to enable process and workflow optimization.
With many tariffs come many templates. Managing those is already a daunting task; should an update due to rebranding be necessary, most companies feel overwhelmed. But with the help of the right customer communications management (CCM) solution, logos and standard texts can be managed and updated centrally in one place, and what initially seems a logistical nightmare can be turned into an easily manageable, resource-saving measure. When it comes to document creation, using a CCM solution is just as beneficial because it guarantees compliance with corporate identity, a reduced likelihood of errors and full transparency.
The right customer communication management platform also facilitates innovative digital communication with customers, tailoring it to their needs and using customer-specific output channels, including social media. By involving clients at an early stage of the communication process (e.g. through electronic forms and interactive documents) companies can speed up their service delivery and reduce costs. Fully automated processes make employee interaction unnecessary, allowing staff to focus on consultancy work instead.
Energy companies can manage their customer communication the way they and their customers want to. They may have suffered an economic setback due to the pandemic, but by using the right platform, they can ensure to provide excellent customer communication services. In that respect, they may well end up experiencing their own Roaring ‘20s.