COVID-19 has caused a great shift in how we define essential services. Healthcare providers and first responders have certainly always been viewed in this light. Now grocery store workers, gas station attendants, pharmacists, and others are viewed as critical to keeping our country running.
Equally important are the electric utility companies that provide the power that runs our homes, businesses, hospitals, government offices, police departments, and fire stations. The public doesn’t usually think of utilities in heroic terms – nor do utilities look at themselves through that particular lens. However…
The COVID-19 public health emergency has presented the power and utility industry with a unique opportunity to rebrand itself as an uber-essential service.
As we enter the new reality driven by COVID-19, utilities need to increase their focus on the customer. Over the years, customers’ evaluations of their experiences with utilities have been low compared to many other industries. Going forward, utilities would benefit from being more mindful when it comes to showing empathy about their customers’ unique circumstances during this unprecedented health and economic crisis; personalizing services and communications to mirror customer concerns; and using digital technologies to provide more seamless customer interactions.
In this paper, we discuss how utilities can elevate their customers’ experiences and solidify their trust by focusing on ways to (1) empower residential customers, (2) enable a more resilient commercial sector, (3) pioneer new ways of working with regulators, and (4) make the necessary internal cultural changes that support the brand and new ways of working in the new reality.
Replay our webcast
Listen to the Powering the future webcast replay, where we were joined by three major power and utilities and discussed predictions for utilities after COVID-19.
The four pillars that will define utilities’ future
1. Empowering the residential customer
Demonstrating empathy and personalization across all interactions
Consumers have become accustomed to real-time communication, convenient online services, and meaningful engagement in all aspects of their lives. They have the same expectations of their utility providers. Electric utilities need to meet these needs by providing next-level reliability; staying ahead of residential customers’ ability to pay their bills using advanced analytics and smart meter readings; reaching out with regular, personalized communications through ambidextrous channels; and extending their environmental social and governance (ESG) initiatives.
2. Enabling a more resilient commercial sector
Expectation management and visibility of green initiatives
Shutdowns during COVID-19 have resulted in lower energy demands from temporarily – and permanently -- shuttered businesses. Since commercial customers want to know what to expect in this climate, utilities can use intelligent forecasting to gauge businesses’ ability to pay their energy bills and to understand what kinds of financial recovery programs will help them survive the economic downturn. Although resilience is critical in the near term, sustainability will be even more important in the new reality. Utilities should, therefore, step up their ESG efforts to help strengthen their communities and stabilize the economy as all sectors struggle to recover.
3. Working with regulators
A shift from negotiation to collaboration
Given the electric power industry’s recognition as an essential service, utilities are in a stronger position to collaborate with regulators on what the future will look like. Together, they can seek to address issues that include protecting the environment, offering customers greater choice, and addressing social equity issues through programs such as economic hardship funding. When it comes to their own recovery, utilities can use advanced analytics and predictive modeling to make a compelling case with regulators for cost mitigation, payment and collection process adjustments, and appropriate rate cases.
4. Rebranding from the inside out
Focus on agility and technology transformation
Every rebranding must also involve internal change management. Historically, utilities have been more focused on reliability than agility. Going forward, they will need an agile approach to operations and meeting employee needs. They have already pivoted to remote working models to protect their employees during the shutdown. Going forward, they will need to increase their efforts to retain and hire top talent and keep their workforces productive. This will require regular communication, openness to feedback about front-line worker safety, and development of advanced digital infrastructures.