Utilities can use digital communication to fix a fractured CX
Mia Papanicolaou, COO, Striata discusses how utilities can use digital communication to fix a fractured CX
For much of their history, utilities haven’t had to pay too much attention to customer experience (CX). The focus in many areas, has tended to be on technologies that supported infrastructure and reduced operational costs.
But today’s customer expects much more. Thanks to their interactions with service providers in other industries, people expect their utilities to provide the same seamless experience they encounter elsewhere.
When it comes to providing that kind of experience, the best place to start is with customer communications.
Digital innovation and customer expectations
While customers may continue to have a limited choice when it comes to utilities, the sector still faces disruption from innovative new players. It’s become increasingly affordable, for example, for homeowners to switch from grid-based electricity to using solar panels to take care of most of their power needs.
If utilities are to avoid full-scale disruption, they can no longer rely on providing a reasonable service at a reasonable price.
They need to focus on creating a better customer experience.
In fact, focusing on customer experience could see utilities thrive in even the most disruptive environment. A 2017 CapGemini study revealed that as many as 73% of respondents said they would pay for better customer service from their utility provider.
Learn from the retailers
If utilities are to provide an improved experience, turning to the retail sector for ideas on delivering a superior CX is a good idea.
Retailers tend to understand that their customers have a few key expectations, including:
Cross-channel personalized experiences
Seamless, consistent and connected journeys
Data accuracy, protection and privacy
Interaction where, when and how they want
Value exchanges above and beyond
Real-time interactions and responses
If utilities can actively meet and exceed those expectations, they’ll build lasting customer relationships that engender loyalty and maximize value.
To maximize the value of a customer, utilities need to understand what their customers really want and map their strategy to provide just that.
Digital communication is vital
Ultimately, the best place to make an impact in CX is in digital customer communication.
According to a 2016 study by Market Strategies, 54% of residential customers preferred digital communication over any other form of communication.
Utilities can start by using the communications already sent to customers and include valuable data and insights that are personalized to the customer’s activity.
These customizations are what improve the CX for customers and build the foundations for trust and a better relationship. Using data effectively and helping the customer better understand usage will not only improve the CX, but increase engagement too.
Customers expect to engage digitally with their utility provider and in a manner that is meaningful to their experience.
Betting on billing
That said, it may not be possible for utilities to overhaul all of their digital communications at once. Some areas may take longer than others to get right.
When customers have a bad experience, they typically engage less, take longer to pay bills and ignore payment reminders and past due notices. Taking this into consideration, a good start in improving the CX would be the bill-to-payment communications.
The bill-to-payment journey needs to be streamlined to remove the friction points that cause a fractured customer experience, for example where a bill is sent electronically but an overdue payment notice is sent by mail. Furthermore, tone, branding and general approach should be consistent across communications.
Streamlining and improving this experience for customers will increase engagement and ultimately improve cash flow.
Big business benefits
It’s time for utilities to embrace a seamless, digitally transformed customer experience and improve the communications that are sent to clients as this is what will retain and maintain long term client relationships.
For more information on business topics in the United States, please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief USA.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.