Mobile apps have emerged as a major customer satisfaction factor during the past few years, significantly affecting how players in the utility industry engage with their communities of interest. For the growing number of consumers who use their mobile devices to manage almost all aspects of their personal and professional lives, the absence of easy-to-use and feature-rich apps can not only lead to disappointment but to dissatisfaction that can affect how utilities achieve their long-term business objectives.
Although momentum toward mobile app adoption in the utility sector is building, 33% of the largest utility providers in the country still do not offer digital methods of engagement. In this author’s opinion, this is inexcusable. Many utilities are missing out onan app revolution.
Failure to Communicate
Failure to embrace mobile apps can have significant consequences. For one thing, it prevents utilities from developing and maintaining a high level of intimacy with customers. It also shuts off a critical channel of communication during times of crisis. Utilities that embrace mobile apps are getting major kudos from customers because it offers a faster, more tailored experience in a convenient form factor that is literally at their fingertips.
This is especially true for those in the industry that go beyond offering the most basic levels of functionality. Utility providers on the vanguard of mobile app development make it possible for customers to directly interact with a variety of service features. They can also proactively keep key stakeholders informed of important account and emergency developments through automated push notifications and alerts.
In the process, utilities that have made strategic investments in mobile apps are capturing critical insights about their customers as they voluntarily share data about evolving habits and needs. It provides a clear window into how utilities can improve their services while optimizing efficiencies.
While there are many benefits to embracing robust mobile app messaging strategies, most utilities tend to focus on three key factors when they decide to move forward with this channel of engagement:
- Cost Reduction. Mobile apps can take tremendous pressure off conventional call center operations–which tend to be quite expensive. As customers become familiar with apps, they tend to gravitate toward self-serve options when seeking information, changing account settings or completing other essential-but-routine account functions. The ability to offload standard queries and operations frees customer service representatives (CSRs) to focus on addressing and resolving more complicated challenges stakeholders face.
- Consumers Prefer Digital Engagement for Issue Resolution. J.D. Power studies show that 70% of customers go straight to digital channels when they have a problem. Indeed, customers find it frustrating when they are forced to make a phone call for routine activities.
- Crisis Communications. Utility providers should not overlook the benefits associated with the immediate and highly reliable communication that is enabled by mobile apps when events disrupt service or create dangerous situations. Mobile app solutions provide a platform for quick and effective communication during emergencies.
These solutions also make it possible for utilities to be extremely precise in how messages are targeted while providing a valuable feedback loop during crises. Using geofencing technologies that take advantage of location-based services on mobile devices, utilities can be more focused on how notifications or alerts are sent to customers during crises. This cannot be replicated by sending a text or launching a robocall protocol.
Mobile Apps have Universal Appeal
One of the arguments occasionally raised to push back on mobile-app development has revolved around the notion that it targets the young tech-savvy demographics while excluding older generations. J.D. Power data, however, shows that most age groups seem open to — and even enthusiastic about — using apps from utilities when they are available. With the exception of pre-boomers (people born before 1946), who make up 5% of the survey sample, every other age-demographic rates their app experiences as being preferable to calling in or web-based experiences.
More than 50% of customers surveyed report using mobile features to access aspects of utility service. Though many complain that the utility industry lags others in the quality of digital functionality, some utility leaders are leading the way with impressive digital engagement goals. For instance:
- Florida Power and Light scored exceptionally high in mobile app satisfaction. The utility has received strong positive feedback from consumers since it deployed a modern and visually appealing mobile design.
- Entergyscored above 900 (on a 1000-point scale) for their app experience in the wake of significant updates to align mobile app functionality with customer expectations during the course of 2021.
Another concern that is expressed by mobile-app naysayers, is that mobile apps end up serving more affluent customers at the expense of low-income stakeholders. Once again, J.D. Power data shows a different reality. Mobile apps — as a channel of engagement — yield the highest satisfaction rates across every income category, with app preference highest among those making less than US$ 60,000 a year.
In the final analysis, success with mobile apps — and customer engagement strategies in general — comes down to designing experiences that drive adoption. J.D. Power research finds that the key to broad consumer adoption is quite simple: functionality. Utilities that build apps that offer premium features — such as proactive guidance and advice — in addition to standard bill paying and appointment setting services create a strong motivation for customers to remain engaged and satisfied.