Squeezed by falling profits, technology disruption and outside competitors targeting their customers, energy providers face the additional challenge of falling short of consumers’ expectations for digital channels and personalized experiences, according to the latest edition of the annual New Energy Consumer research by Accenture.
Consumers’ expectations have become more demanding due to mass digitalization, which is challenging energy providers to keep pace with standards set in other industries such as banking. While digital customer experiences are essential, one-third of energy consumers said their provider’s digital channels such as websites and mobile applications could not meet their online requests and they had to contact a live agent.
For consumers who had interacted with their energy providers via digital channels over the past 12 months, digital dissatisfaction stemmed from issues like having trouble finding information on energy providers’ websites (38 percent). Consumers also said these sites took too long to load (34 percent); lacked needed information (31 percent) and were not personalized (28 percent). Twenty-seven percent said they were not fun to use, were not intuitive and did not provide consistent information.
“These shortfalls are significant to note as energy providers are under more pressure than ever to rotate toward new, integrated end-consumer solutions and rapidly launch new products and digital services,” said Tony Masella, managing director who leads Accenture’s Energy Retail and Customer Services practice. “The key to catching up is for energy providers to revamp their operating models to keenly focus on consumers who are increasingly using digital channels, services, and platforms. Providers need to move quickly to shift from decades of long planning cycles and rigid processes to quickly create a new culture that reshapes and delivers personalized customer experiences, before agile competitors who are ahead in the digital game get there first.”
Fortunately, energy providers are still more trusted by consumers than non-traditional competitors that are expanding into the industry. Some alternative providers, such as home appliances manufacturers or home service providers, are now seen, by over half of consumers, as well positioned to help them understand and optimize energy consumption.
These competitors are especially mindful of consumers who use digital channels and are more willing to sign up for new services. Indeed, 41 percent of consumers who regularly use digital channels said they would be willing to pay for a connected home bundled service, such as one that manages lighting, smart thermostats, entertainment and security systems. That compares with only 21 percent of people who don’t use digital channels regularly to interact with their energy provider.
As in other industries, energy consumers said that discounts rank highly to further engage them. In fact, 71 percent said that a discount would make them likely or very likely to share personal and energy usage details with their energy providers’ partners so they could receive customized products and services. In addition, 72 percent would be somewhat or very interested in discounts for smart thermostats, efficient light bulbs and a home energy efficiency audit. Almost three quarters of consumers (73 percent) said that discounts would convince them to use a digital-only customer service program for all their interactions with their energy provider, except for outages.
“Hyper-relevance through more digital engagement will be key for energy providers to grow new revenue streams, build customer loyalty and in deregulated markets position against price-only plays,” said Masella. “This requires developing personalization strategies across experiences and channels, as well as new and traditional service offerings.”
Personalizing the customer experience is a key value driver when consumers are considering buying and engaging in new products and services from their energy providers. For 82 percent of consumers, new products and services should be personalized to their needs and preferences in order to be purchased. What’s more, more than half of consumers in competitive markets, 54 percent, said they would consider changing energy providers, if the incumbent’s products and services were not personalized to their needs and preferences.
“The future is about being able to not only react to consumer preferences, but to predict and act,” added Masella. “Providers must innovate at speed: they must enable a customer operating model that puts people and customers at the heart of product and experience design. This approach is founded in a fundamental cultural shift that is supported by next-generation technologies. Not a digital technology led approach.”
The multiyear New Energy Consumer research program is designed to help utilities understand emerging consumer needs and preferences, to identify new challenges and opportunities and to bring focus to the critical competencies required to succeed in the evolving energy marketplace. The program draws upon primary research insights from end consumers around the world, leading practices from industry and cross-industry providers, and technology adoption analysis.
Accenture’s eight years of New Energy Consumer global research surveys are based on questionnaire-led interviews with end consumers. Surveys are conducted online in native languages for Accenture by Harris Interactive. The selected countries represent a range of regulated and competitive markets. For the 2017 edition, 9,719 interviews were conducted in 18 countries, including 1,049 in the United States, 641 in the United Kingdom, 529 in Canada, and 500 in Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Portugal, Singapore, Spain and Sweden. For residential consumers, the survey sample was statistically representative of the general population in each country, with the exceptions of Brazil, China, Malaysia and the Philippines, where the sample was representative of the urban populations. For countries with large and/or diverse populations, participants were selected from a broad spectrum of locations. The surveys included attitudinal, behavioral and demographic questions.