Why customer switching requires smarter sales

As prices drop, consumers are once again shopping around for the best deals when it comes to energy. Utilities hoping to capitalise should be making new customer onboarding as smart and efficient as possible, writes David Costello, chief executive officer of PSI.

With recent changes to the energy price cap, the opportunity for greater market competition has come into play. Door-to-door sales are also reemerging as a viable sales channel. This type of engagement presents a valuable opportunity for companies to both acquire new customers and strengthen brand awareness; but only if approached in the correct way.

For one thing, if a customer decides to switch supplier, it shouldn’t be a cause of worry. They should be informed all the way along about a) what they are buying and b) when they will be switched on.

That’s the happy path. Taking a new customer along it requires a few things: a good, well-trained, properly incentivised sales team; market intelligence about where and when your sales reps should do what they do; and effective technology. These are the factors that will drive up the piece rate in your field sales team.

When it comes to customer onboarding, there should be enough data available to the rep so they can complete it in real time, at the point of sale, wrapping up everything that’s needed and passing it on to the internal system. This means a one-touch onboarding process for the customer. The more touchpoints, the more potential for something to go wrong.

In fact, if the customer onboarding process is ineffective, it ultimately affects the reputation of the brand. Utilities are often focused on communities and word of mouth is important: if one customer has a negative experience, they will tell others. Get things badly wrong, and they may tell the regulator or the media.

Smooth sailing?

A smooth customer onboarding process integrates sales and back-office IT systems to complete seamlessly. If these systems aren’t integrated, you end up with manual processes, and with manual processes there is always the potential for mistakes. It’s challenging: utilities often have many legacy systems, and it’s difficult to get them to talk to each other using multiple application programming interfaces – so having one utility-dedicated system that overlooks your technology stack is a good move.

An alternative is to build your own system from scratch. But building an integrated sales and customer onboarding platform can be fraught with difficulty. It may make it hard to keep up with changes in the marketplace, new demands from the regulator, and advances in technology. Companies may also build their own platform and investment stops, so keeping it up to date is difficult.

At PSI, we have had clients who develop minimum viable product solutions that cover 80% of what they need and quickly find that keeping up with the remaining 20% is too difficult, expensive, or time consuming.

A key aspect of this, for example, might be security: keeping data secure and having the correct controls in place. In that scenario, having a platform that is secure out of the box is very attractive.

Artificial intelligence in the field

Security threats are just one aspect of the way in which the tech landscape is always changing. For example, AI is enabling us to plan field sales activity so that as much of the sales rep’s activity is automated in terms of who, where and why they are going to visit. What is the right time, and which areas are going to generate results?

At the data and intelligence level, you don’t want people knocking on doors where people have requested not to be contacted, or worse, on the doors of existing customers. Conversely, you want to know when people are coming out of contract and are a potential sale.

Once the sale has been made, the onboarding process should be slick, and it helps to work to utility industry standards in terms of meter data and address data to get up and running quickly. We also operate a multichannel environment that includes not just field sales, but also telesales, website capture, and offline. This enables the customer to complete their preferred sales journey – for example, the sale may start in the field but be completed later via the web or telesales activity.

We’ve seen a lot of changes in the industry since our Fusion platform was launched, but some traditional aspects of sales still apply. While there is a certain cohort that knows exactly why they are switching energy supplier, there are others who need more help. That’s why a consultative, face-to-face sales approach is still really useful, whether it’s to kick off the process or complete it.

On the other hand, when it comes to digital, it’s true that people’s expectations are much higher than they were 15 or 20 years ago. There’s the expectation that a digital sale will be smooth, accurate and timely; customers don’t have the patience for anything less than that.

So as customers once again become inclined to switch energy supplier, it’s vital you have the technology in place to make that journey as good for them as possible.

Want to know more about dedicated sales technology for utilities? To learn about PSI and the Fusion platform, look here.