The Utility Customer 2020: Digital, connected, social

Change is happening all around us. Technology continues to impact our lives at exponential rates. Social media networks and mobile devices, in particular, are constantly evolving the way we interact with the world.

We previously introduced a vision of the customer of the near future, called the Utility Customer 2020, which defines five potential fundamental changes in the utility customer base, and lays out key issues utilities should consider to prepare for this change.

The first aspect of Customer 2020 predicts that utility customers will likely be fully digital, using a variety of mobile devices for constant connectivity and social interaction. This changing overall lifestyle will likely affect the interactions with their utility, which will be expected to engage customers with options, knowledge, and participation as opposed to being the service provider that’s neither seen nor heard.

By 2020, about 95 percent of a utility’s bill-paying customers will have either grown up during the age of digital technology or will be “digital converts” and fully digital savvy. What’s more, as documented this past year, smartphone purchases have overtaken ‘regular phones’ (non-smartphones) and PC purchases in overall sales.   Customer expectations around digital connectivity, along with their preferred communication channels and technologies, are changing and will continue to change.

What does this mean for utilities?  It means you can expect most of your customers to want their interactions to be online, mobile, “in the cloud,” and delivered securely to their most current mobile device. They may rely on social media to share, communicate, and learn with (and about) you. They may expect instant access to information wherever they may be, delivered to and accessible by their smartphones now, and whatever future devices may come. They may also expect to have apps to make their transactions simple, convenient, and fast.

Mobility and Connectivity Growth Likely to Continue in all Aspects of Consumers’ Lives

In just a few years utility customers will have dramatically different wants, needs, behaviors, and choice.  Will utilities be ready?

Mobility and connectivity are instrumental in consumers’ lives today, and anticipated to be even more so in years to come. By 2022, it is projected there will be approximately 50 Internet-connected devices in the average household, compared to roughly 10 today. In addition, in May 2012, 8 percent of U.S. Internet browsing occurred using a mobile device — a 69 percent increase from May 2011. It’s estimated that by mid-2014, more web browsing will occur through mobile devices than full-size devices. Furthermore, the rise of smart home energy and security management devices foretells further household digital innovations to come. By 2020, customers are expected to be exponentially more mobile, digital, and connected than they are today.

Consumers will Likely Receive Information from Utilities via Mobile Devices

Currently, 21 percent of a utility’s online site visitors are viewing from their mobile devices. By 2020, the trend is projected to continually increase, with information ranging from alerts, to marketing, to outage information all readily available on the go. Already today, outage information is distributed in a variety of ways, including email, text messages, phone calls and social media, updates from utility, and customer initiated inquiries to the utility. However, customers who received text messages from their utility were 50 percent more likely to express a positive opinion of their utility than those who did not. For utilities to achieve high customer satisfaction, they must consider distributing information to the consumer through customers’ preferred method of communication, which is increasingly becoming their mobile device.

Customers will Likely Utilize Their Mobile Devices to Perform Tasks for Their Utility

In addition to communicating vital outage information, customers will likely expect to perform utility tasks through mobile devices. For some advanced U.S. utilities, sleek mobile applications give users the ability to view and pay bills, report outages, schedule service appointments, and monitor usage. By 2020, mobile apps may very well be the primary way customers interact with their energy supplier.

Consumers will Likely Provide More Feedback to Utilities via Social Media

With the continuing growth and popularity of social media, customers have an increased ability to share their opinions of the goods and services they consume. Many social media sites empower consumers to provide direct feedback for all to see. Some utilities are starting to use social media to track customer feedback, though this use is in its early stages.

By 2020, about 95 percent of a utility’s bill-paying customers will have either grown up during the age of digital technology or will be “digital converts” and fully digital savvy.

Utilities are interested in using social media more strategically, but most haven’t yet begun to do so. Today, utilities are primarily using social media to provide energy efficiency and safety tips, communicate outages and emergencies, respond to customer complaints, promote products and services, communicate with the media, promote workshops and events, notify customers of demand-response events, and communicate energy prices. Social media presents a wealth of opportunity — and risk, if ignored or not managed well — for utilities to hear and be heard by their customers. When the customer feels heard, customer satisfaction and brand health are more likely to improve.

2020 is right around the corner

The Utility Customer 2020 is six short years away, not a theoretical, far-fetched vision. Social media and mobility are a cultural shift for most utilities and strategy is paramount to ensure its success. Utilities will want to develop a strategy that sets a vision for the type of customer experience you want to deliver, and identify the processes, capabilities, culture and technologies required to deliver that experience. Customers will continue to raise their expectations of utilities, and utilities will have to be flexible and digitally advanced to meet these changing demands.