New Customer Engagement: How Can Utilities Influence Customers/Impact Their Lifestyle?
“We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.”
- Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum
When we analyze the above statement in the light of a utility customer, be it residential, commercial, or an enterprise, we start to realize that each and every customer has multiple choices to make when it comes to energy solutions, irrespective of market deregulation. With the infrastructure nearing its full capacity, governments and utilities at federal, state, and local levels are providing incentives to the public for installing solar or batteries to meet increasing energy demands with renewable resources. With the advancement of solar technology and plummeting costs, manufacturers have leveraged economies of scale, making solar an affordable option with a 5-year payback period. That would also mean continued savings for over 40 years for any consumer.
We, at HCL, believe that Energy & Utility companies (E&U) companies are social enablers. The industry has, for many years, provided reliable service to customers, sans excuses, and kept their faith in the product. The customers could trust that when they flick the switch, it will light up their homes. The utilities sector, however, has treated their customers as bill-paying entities. Nonetheless, in today’s context, 8 out of 10 utilities are actively considering ways to improve engagement with their customers or ‘prosumers’. They are willing to invest in technology such as information management systems and social media monitoring tools to achieve the objectives of better customer engagement.
Most leading E&U companies are eager to reap the benefits of the environmental movement and this enthusiasm is, in turn, shaping the development of the renewable energy industry at both national and global levels. They are all thinking along the lines of, “What does it take for a utility to influence the lifestyle of its customers?” Many utility providers are including such subjects in their key values to ensure that they remain socially and environmentally viable.
The companies that have developed the exceptional ability to interact with and influence many others have a higher possibility of successfully sustaining themselves in the industry. When you ask the CxO of a utilities company, 72% of them are worried about the major disruption that is going to happen. While only 14% are really prepared to address them, only 6% of them are sure that the path they have chosen will really work. Don’t take the easy way out by using nebulous inspirational posters or temporary motivation tactics or implementing a bunch of technologies. Instead, tap into your ability to truly influence others.
The E&U industry is visibly shifting gears, from complex customer information management systems to customer engagement platforms, implementing CRMs, social media governance, and more. E&U companies are eager to reap the benefits of the environmental movement and this enthusiasm is, in turn, shaping the development of the renewable energy industry at both national and global levels.
Those companies that have formed the exceptional ability to interact with and influence many others have a higher possibility of successfully sustaining their foothold in the industry. While when you ask the CxO of a Utilities, 72% of them are worried about the major disruption that is going to happen while on 14% of them are really prepared to address them of which only 6% are sure if the path they have chosen would really work. Don’t take the easy way out using only nebulous inspirational poster or temporary motivation tactics or implement a bunch of technology. What is needed is tap into your ability to TRULY influence others.Much like other industries, the utilities sector is struggling to deal with new age customers and prospects who have access to new avenues, aided by technology. It isn’t easy for a firm to control its intent and messaging, as it was before. Instead of company provided channels, customers prefer looking up online resources, which are more objective.
This is the core of how influence is perceived today. Such influence from online sources is personalized, relative, variable, and happens in real time.
Think about what makes a person influential to you. It could be a trust relationship through a social network which has led you to understand that:
- The person is knowledgeable about the subject/content.
- You value that person’s opinion and advice.
Influence comes down to one question – Can an influencer’s words, actions, or videos get a second person (i.e. the influenced) to take some action or change some inherent belief? In other words, influence is based on the perception of expertise and trust, which, when combined, form brand identity.
Taking the other characteristics of online influence into account, we can start to understand how they are connected to a brand (specifically, with regards to expertise and trust). For instance, any such influence is personalized as the one influenced must consider the online influencer as an expert and should already have some kind of a relationship based on trust. The nature of the influence varies, making it contextual – an online influencer can have huge influence on one subject but not as much on others.
Therefore, the impact that an influencer can have depends on the level of trust in the relationship and the expertise therein. The ripple effect is evident in the creation of degrees of influence, directly linked to the prevalence of the influencer’s brand.
Let’s take an example of a product review on Amazon. It’s likely that none of the reviewers have a prior relationship with you, so the trust is low. In this case, you can only rely on their reviews to understand their level of expertise. However, if one particular reviewer were to write a compelling review with solid proof, then that review suddenly becomes more influential. If you still come across a review of the same product by a friend you know on Facebook, for example, you would be more likely to trust this review more even if it opposes the earlier review. That is because of the deeper trust in this relationship.
From an organization’s point of view, online influence is crucial, but it is also known that establishing such influence is tough, especially if and when taken out of context. One can collect immense amounts of data through social media monitoring tools but it is another matter to leverage that data to establish influence. This is because of the nature of the influence itself, along with its many types, which cannot be judged by such social media monitoring tools. An individual may well have a broad ‘influence’ in an unspecific, horizontal way, such as having lots of followers, subscribers, or friends, but such influence isn’t enough to hook the target audience to act or change a belief. Therefore, a business needs influencer/s in keeping with the desired outcomes and information management systems geared toward the same.
The methods used for measuring broad, public influence, especially on social media, is not placed in context. It is not personalized and by extension, isn’t relevant to your target individual. This is where customer influence management comes in. Let’s explore why customer influence will become the measure for effective use of social media for the utility industry. Since the rebranding from First Utility, Shell Energy is initiating its first marketing campaign, with the aim of utilizing its brand name strength while retaining its challenger status. This effort follows the company’s acquisition of First Utility in March last year and has been created to celebrate the accomplishment of 100% renewable energy for UK homes. Ed Kamm, Shell Energy’s chief commercial officer, says that the campaign, which will run across TV, radio, and social media, is designed to help educate consumers in an “authentic way”:
“A lot of big suppliers would tell you there’s a lot of disengaged consumers out there when it comes to home energy. Unfortunately, through our history as consumers we take it for granted. You turn on the lights, they come on. You turn on the heat, it comes on,” he says. “But we want people to start thinking about where their energy comes from and we’ve done that by not viewing things from the perspective of the supplier but by viewing things from the perspective of a real-life family.”
It will take some work for consumers to rid themselves of the negative point of view they have about the utility sector. Revamped information management systems will be key in this context. E.ON is currently devoting some serious attention to the matter, by being more than just a gas and electricity provider, and highlighting their efforts towards establishing a more sustainable future. According to Belinda Moore, the firm’s marketing and communications director at board level, the brand is hard at work to imbibe its campaigns with an ‘un-utility’ approach, as she completes her first anniversary in the position.
The question here is, are there common traits or patterns that identify those who have developed the ability to ensure customer engagement and influence others? The answer is yes; here are the influence factors:
- Do the words and actions demonstrate a clear sense of mission or purpose?
- Are they building a rapport with me?
- Are they seeking my opinion and inputs on significant issues?
- Are they visible to me as someone who rises to serve the needs and interest of others that I relate to?
- Would it help me focus on my needs for growing and developing my areas of interest?
- Are their decisions, actions and principles value driven?
- Are they actively enhancing my knowledge, talents, and skills?