Energy providers are missing out on multi-million cost savings and new revenue streams by not tailoring their digital customer experiences, products and services for small and medium size enterprises (SMEs).
That’s the verdict of new research from Accenture which shows that in competitive European markets, an average-sized retail energy provider could unlock up to £28m in net benefits across a five-year SME customer digital transformation programme.
The research was based on a survey of nearly 3800 SMEs across the Americas, Europe and the Asia Pacific and it found that almost 60 per cent of SMEs said that energy providers’ current products, services and support were either not tailored to their business needs, or were the same as those for residential customers, who often have different requirements.
“SMEs tend to be forgotten, yet they offer significant value for providers using digital channels in the new energy ecosystem,” said Tony Masella, senior managing director at Accenture. “To land new customers, energy providers need to offer programmes with tailored business insights from customers’ data, deliver an interactive connected energy experience, and make these services an effortless experience.”
The survey reveals that SMEs are more likely to try new products and services as business customers than they are as residential customers. It also highlights a ‘ripple effect’ with residential customer behaviour, as the majority (61 per cent) of SMEs interested or already participating in a digital energy engagement programme are very likely to recommend their providers to residential customers.
Embedding innovative technologies, such as artificial intelligence, into digital customer experience value propositions can help, and SMEs are willing and ready to try them. Accenture’s study found, for example, that 67 per cent of SMEs believe that digital agents could give them tailored business advice as they draw from more information sources.
The survey also found that SMEs are interested in mutually beneficial partnership opportunities with their energy providers. Some 43 per cent of SMEs said they’re interested in solar-power sharing programmes in which they could partner with their energy providers to co-own and co-operate solar panels on their business premises in exchange for a bill discount.
Nearly the same number (42 per cent) cited an interest in teaming with their energy provider to offer new energy-related products and services through their business to generate new revenues, such as a grocery store selling energy-efficient thermostats to its customers.
The findings also indicate that traditional energy providers face potential competition from specialised energy services companies when it comes to winning over customers. While 80 per cent of SMEs consider traditional energy providers for purchasing energy-related products and services, a majority of consumers (59 per cent) said they would also consider their phone, internet or cable provider or consumer electronics company.
“This competition highlights the urgency for traditional energy providers to act now and take advantage of digital energy engagement, which our survey found drives a more than sevenfold increase in SMEs’ likelihood to sign up for additional energy-related products and services,” added Masella.
Accenture states that competition is more urgent in deregulated markets, where larger SMEs have a higher potential than residential customers for switching energy providers to get better deals and efficiencies. In fact, almost half (46 per cent) of SMEs in deregulated markets said they are certainly or probably planning to switch providers in the next 12 months.
That figure – driven significantly by larger SMEs, which have greater energy costs – is 50 per cent higher than the number of residential energy consumers who said they plan to switch (29 percent). The factors that would motivate SMBs to switch include receiving a specific energy engagement program (cited by 44 per cent) and enhanced customer service and support (44 per cent) tailored to their business needs.
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