Concierge Getty

Delivering Concierge Level Service to Utility Key Accounts

March 26, 2020
What is the right recipe for building strong relationships with key accounts?

What is the right recipe for building strong relationships with key accounts? Increasingly, in a world that has come to expect always-on, immediate gratification, achieving high levels of customer satisfaction with key accounts requires delivering a "concierge" level of service, whereby key accounts receive a highly proactive level of service.

Every account should be treated like an important account, but some simply have a bigger impact on the bottom line than others. These "key accounts" — typically large manufacturing facilities, medical centers, universities, or data centers — that consume the lion's share of a utility's resources and typically represent anywhere from about a third to half of a utility's annual revenue, have become a focal point for utilities looking to become more customer-centric.

For those who are getting the formula right, the effort is paying off in the form of higher levels of customer satisfaction and advocacy among key accounts. Those are important metrics when it comes to building the type of goodwill that can influence public utility commissions, politicians, and even the public writ large. For those who miss the mark, the results could be catastrophic.

That does not mean utility personnel are suddenly being tasked with making great dinner reservations for hospital and data center managers. It means they are demonstrating a top-down commitment to meeting each customer's unique needs.

Joint Planning Sessions Set the Right Tone

Our studies show, "Far and away, the most important factor driving strong performance with key accounts is the deployment of joint planning sessions to assist with customer concerns, issues, and expectations. This step helps demonstrate how utilities are creating value and fostering a real sense of partnership with their key accounts."

These sessions, which can often include senior utility management, create an "agreement" between the two companies, clearly stating what the customer needs, expects, and would like assistance with over the coming year. The utility then creates a document capturing these criteria and provides updates on progress. A quarterly frequency for these updates is ideal.

When joint planning is implemented properly, information is transferred in a seamless two-way street from customer to utility, and utility to customer. Over time, the account manager at the utility will learn the customer's operations, will fully understand what the customer's needs are, and will be more prepared to assist when challenges arise.

Communicate the Good, Communicate the Bad

Customers who spend upwards of six figures a month in electric service do not consider their relationship with their utility as a simple transactional relationship. In their eyes, this is a partnership and it needs to be treated like one. That means sharing the good news along with the bad when the situation presents itself.

When the utility is doing well, they assist in the economic development of the community, this could show in the customer's bottom line as well. When the customer is happy and feels there is a partnership between themselves and the utility, they are happy to spread the word. When a customer is fully educated, they feel they understand the utility's position and are more likely to forgive when issues do arise.

By contrast, when left in the dark, a customer will nearly always assume the negative. Customers need to be informed, they need news — good and bad — to feel they can make an educated decision regarding issues that arise. Put simply, if the customer doesn't know, it didn't happen.

That same philosophy extends to key business accounts. In fact, our research finds that when key accounts are brought into joint planning sessions in which utilities proactively address concerns, efficiency, and account planning issues, overall satisfaction scores are 159 points higher (on a 1000-point scale) than when no proactive account management protocol is in place.

Looking Forward

The downside to failing to maintain a positive relationship with key accounts is clear. In addition to damaging a utility’s reputation, a thoroughly frustrated key account could decide to involve a public utility commission or some other regulatory body. It might even take a utility to court. Economic development could suffer. If the situation takes a turn for the worse, public authorities could involve themselves in a more dramatic, or perhaps even permanent fashion. Nobody wins.

Most utilities are not in such dire straits. Some are already doing an excellent job, and while a few may need to take more drastic measures to improve, many require more moderate changes. For all, there's a clear path forward rooted in a relatively simple philosophy: Treat key accounts like the critical customers they are and partner closely to achieve your collective goals.

This article is based on J. D. Power's Electric Utility Key Account Satisfaction Study, which evaluated customer experiences of 1340 key account customers of electric utilities.

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