Iain Millar, managing partner for innovation, Rufus Leonard Company strategy, Customers, Policy, Policy & regulation, Regulation, Strategy & management, Opinion, brand, branding

"It’s imperative to have engagement from all levels of the organisation. This is a fundamental transformation programme that will touch every aspect of the business"

As consumers become increasingly expectant of a seamless, personalised customer experience that intelligently connect their past touchpoints and pre-empt their intent, it’s imperative for the transactional and compliance-driven customer experiences of utility brands to evolve.

A new cohort of “demanding” consumers

Following the digitally-driven developments in other industries, namely technology services as well as retail and fintech, consumers have become accustomed to a highly intuitive and personalised level of service. They now expect this level of service from all brands they ‘partner’ with. But, despite a handful of service innovations in the utilities sector, most organisations have failed to keep up with the pace of change.

More than 5.5 million energy customers switched electricity supplier last year – marking a new record. Highlighting that although, for years, consumers have been satisfied with stable power costs and avoiding power outages, now they demand more; a better and more tailored service, transparent pricing, better control and real-time information. Customers want responsiveness, along with services targeted to their specific needs — from programmable thermostats to smart meters that help them better tailor their electrical usage. They want a utility to act like their partner. For those organisations who fail to meet this expectation, customer loyalty is rare and the threat of competition fierce.

Utilities must ask themselves how they will define the right experience for their customers, balancing customer needs and financial limitations. One thing is clear – utilities now have a significant incentive to accelerate the move into the digital age. It has become business critical to embrace digital transformation to meet the growing expectations of consumers and deliver extraordinary customer experiences.

The key is employee engagement

Although digital transformation has seen an increase in most sectors, utilities have been digital laggards. Complex legacy systems, multiple 3rd party integrations and a myriad of product offerings, have been some of the main barriers to digital innovation. At its core, internal resistance is one of the most difficult, yet important challenges. 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 are doomed to fail. Organisational engagement is fundamental to achieving a coherent brand transformation however many agile teams you throw at it. Employee behaviour must resonate the experience you are creating through digital. They need to understand how to make your service better and champion the customer throughout the transformation.

So how do you sell your ambitious digital vision into an organisation that is traditionally transactional and potentially resistant to digital change? For those utility organisations looking to press ahead with their digital transformation journey, here are some important considerations:

Engage the entire organisation

It’s imperative to have engagement from all levels of the organisation. This is a fundamental transformation programme that will touch every aspect of the business. To truly benefit from digital innovation, the entire organisation will need to be engaged in the journey and adopt the mind-set necessary to embrace the 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. Develop proof of concepts that demonstrate how this will transform how the business generates value. 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, develop user stories for your key personas. Establishing user stories for personas 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.

Consider how to effectively communicate this. Step away from the PowerPoint – nobody ever felt inspired following 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 this vision 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 is 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 a utility organisation. Utilities now need to embrace innovation, at all levels of the organisation, 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 to embark digital change and move from a transactional utility to a trusted partner brand will rapidly be left behind.

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