When it comes to brands, consumers expect seamless, personalized experiences that intelligently connect what they’ve done before and what they want next.

However, the utility industry – which has been dominated by large, traditional players – is currently rated as the second worst for customer experience and the worst for reputation.

With that in mind, it’s imperative for established utilities to fundamentally rethink their approach to customer experience.

By 2020, it’s predicted that the way people interact with brands will become the key differentiator over product and price. And when 73 per cent of consumers say they are willing to pay more for a better experience, it’s clear that businesses need to make sure they’re meeting the escalating expectations of customers.How to prepare a utility for digital transformation

At the heart of this improved experience is the seamless integration of multiple channels, to create one consistent, engaging experience. Putting in place an omnichannel strategy is vital to success and brings with it a range of benefits, namely retention.

The market intelligence group Aberdeen Group found that companies with strong omnichannel experiences retain an average of 89 per cent of customers compared to 33 per cent for those with weak ones. Seamless, intuitive experiences simply have to become a high priority for utility brands.

Following the advancements in industries such as technology services – as well as in digital retail and FinTech – consumers have become accustomed to a highly intuitive and personalized level of service.

They now expect this from every brand they interact with – and are becoming even more prepared to consider new brands they might not have before if they aren’t happy.

Especially as switching has never been easier, with 70 per cent of consumers reporting that technology has made it much simpler to move between brands.

The migration of consumers from established brands to start-ups has also been accelerated in some countries by government initiatives, such as the ECO policy and Green Deal in the UK, which removed the barriers to entry for smaller firms.

This has been particularly evident with electricity suppliers. More than 5.5 million UK customers switched provider last year, marking a new record. For years, consumers have been satisfied with quite traditional service models that fall way short of the expectations consumers have today. From programmable thermostats to smart meters, they want complete control of their energy usage.

Despite a handful of service innovations in the utilities sector, most established organizations have failed to keep up with the pace of change. Obviously, there is work to be done and those who do make these improvements can expect to see significant financial rewards. Capgemini report that NPS leaders gained 2.5 per cent of their total annual revenue in additional sales revenue from delivering an enhanced customer experience.

How to prepare a utility for digital transformation


Overall, we know that consumers want a simpler service that’s tailored around them, with transparent pricing and real-time information. They also want responsiveness and services targeted to their specific needs.

Most importantly, they want utility brands to be helpful, rather than a monumental effort. For those organisations who fail to meet this expectation, loyalty counts for little and the threat of losing out is very real. In the US, it’s estimated that businesses lose $1.6 trillion a year due to customers switching because of poor service or experience.

Digital evolution

As we move into a future of ever-present digital evolution, utility providers must consider how they will deliver the right experience for their customers. To put it simply, it’s become business critical to embrace the power digital transformation can bring to meet the growing expectations of consumers by delivering extraordinary customer experiences while reducing operational cost.

The power sector is particularly ripe for realising value from rapid digital transformation. With an estimated $1.3 trilion of value to be captured globally before 2025, opportunities in digitiZation of service platforms, smart devices, The Cloud and advanced analytics could result in an increase of the asset lifecycle of infrastructure, optimisation of electricity network flows and innovative customer-centric products.

The organisations that are going to truly benefit from these innovations are the ones that engage the entire organisation in the transformational journey and embrace new technologies. They will be the organisations that realise that this next phase of digital transformation is really about organizational transformation and not just something for the IT department.

These intelligent platforms will enable every area of the organisation to approach things differently, bringing opportunities for incredible new efficiencies and radical new approaches to the way products and services are constructed.

New levels of safety and security will arise, and they will change working practices and ultimately the way that organisations are structured. This technological leap has the potential to not only supercharge the interaction with an organisation but to fundamentally change its operational and structural DNA.

The key is employee engagement

Bringing about these changes starts with people. But internal resistance is one of the most difficult, yet important challenges to conquer. As Forrester argue, employee experience and customer experience are intrinsically linked.

Without buy-in and engagement from the board right through to front-line staff, even the most innovative of customer experience strategies will be doomed to fail.

Organisational engagement is fundamental to achieving coherent meaningful digital transformation no matter how many agile teams you throw at it. By utilising HR as an important resource to deliver these experiences, brands are 50 per cent more likely to be a customer experience leader. Employee behaviour simply has to reflect the experience you are creating through digital, as they are the ambassadors for making your service better and championing the customer throughout the transformation. They need to understand how they fit into the new operating models that embracing real digital transformation demands, how teams need to work differently and how they fundamentally need to think differently.How to prepare a utility for digital transformation

So how do you sell your ambitious digital transformation vision into an organisation in a way that gives it the best chance to succeed? For those established utility organisations looking to press ahead with their digital transformation journey, here are some important considerations.

Engage the entire organisation: It’s crucial to have engagement from all levels of the organization, from board level downwards. This is a fundamental transformation programme that will touch every aspect of the business. To truly benefit from these innovations, an entire organisation will need to be engaged in the journey and adopt the mindset necessary to embrace new technologies.

Demystify the terminology: Machine Learning, Intelligent Machines, Cognitive Platforms, Deep Learning, Intelligent Technology, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Robotic Process Automation, Intelligent Products, Virtual Assistants, APIs… the list goes on and on. These new capabilities are wrapped in a language that to many is impenetrable. Find ways to simplify it. Compile a glossary. Educate everyone so you’re all speaking the same language.

Champion the role of storytelling: To support the evolution of your customer experience strategy, and give your teams useful parameters to create within, try developing user stories for your key personas. Establishing these at either end of the spectrum will allow you to explore the narrative through each stage of the customer lifecycle, from shop through to renewal.

You should also consider how to effectively communicate this. First of all, step away from the PowerPoint –  nobody ever felt inspired by an 80-slide deck. Instead, consider media that champions the role of storytelling. Create long print scrolls, books or short films to engage and connect everyone within the business to the same vision. Really show them what it will look and feel like.

Translate the practicalities of your vision: Support your storytelling media with a framework that translates the future customer experience into design principles and actions. All of which should become the brief for teams to design their specific customer experience around, with a roadmap of proof points to execute against. This will help nurture the ongoing belief in the vision internally and externally.

Bring in business areas early: Reinforce the idea that digital transformation is much more than a big IT initiative. Bring in other business areas early to work on the proof of concepts. It’s important to help your teams recognise how their role adds value to the customer and to the business. Your goal should be to empower your organisation by setting the direction, without prescribing all of the solutions.

For the first time, the technologies now exist to radically transform all aspects of an established utility organization. Utilities now need to embrace innovation, at all levels of the organization, to deliver extraordinary brand experience. The potential of digital transformation is yet to be fully realised but the warning signs for utilities are clear – those that don’t act now and embark on digital transformation and move from a transactional utility to a trusted partner brand, will rapidly be left behind.

Finally, this stage of digital transformation is really about organizational transformation. This is not something for the IT department. It needs to be embraced across the board to deliver the change that will underpin the organizations that are going to survive and flourish in the future.

Neil Svensen is co-founder and chief executive at brand experience engineers, Rufus Leonard