10 Oct Managing customer expectations
Digital disruptors, such as AirBnb, Zopa, GiffGaff, manage to deliver impeccable customer service and remain within arm’s reach of their customers at all times despite changing expectations. What lessons can energy networks learn from them if they are to deliver greater clarity for customers?
Where these digital natives strive to deliver quality, stay relevant, build trust and keep it simple, the energy sector struggles to engage and educate customers, and help them to take action.
From a network asset perspective, this means that millions of pounds are invested across the networks without customers’ knowledge or necessarily a knowledge of what customers want.
This can result in missed opportunities for customer connections and even worse, mismanaged expectations down the line if, for example, a community wants to connect a large asset to the network.
In the majority of cases, customer expectations of energy networks range from low to zero. This is mainly because many customers simply don’t know that anyone exists beyond their supplier. That, however, doesn’t stop customer decisions and desires affecting the energy networks.
Customer expectations around connecting to alternative sources and distributed generation are increasing. But what happens when one farmer plugs in a wind farm and starts generating money, but his friend down the pub asks to do the same thing, only to find the grid is now at capacity and he needs to pay extra to do the same job?
From a customer perspective view, this situation is not fair and it creates a barrier to building trust. From a network point of view, the connection request needs to be quoted even though the network knows that it can’t be actioned.
For those responsible for managing network assets, providing absolute clarity to the customer before a request goes in is vital. It ensures that expectations are managed and customers can work together to support the network in order to deliver the multiple connections they desire, before they happen.
In an environment where energy networks can’t pre-empt customer change, greater visibility would help them to plan more effectively.
If networks understand customer demand to plug in technologies, they can plan to respond to that demand. One way to understand that demand is for it all to be registered on one channel – but this doesn’t solve the problem of time (i.e. one set of demand coming at one point in time, then the next demand coming at the next point in time).
The other option is to step ahead of the curve and proactively create the demand by, say, aggregating communities of people to work together to develop projects that all come online at the same time.
Since energy networks aren’t as close to their customers as AirBnb or Amazon, being proactive can be challenging. The only way to ensure maximum value and proactively engage customers around current asset performance and new asset installations is to ‘own’ the customer relationship. Whoever is managing the relationship requires full transparency of all the data they need to manage the problem / opportunity as well as possible, in as few calls as possible.
The Energy Loop aims to closethe gap between the customer and the network by engaging customers to understand what the demand is for different energy technologies. Taking this ‘outside-in’ approach to identify customer pain points and explore how digital innovation can serve customers in the way they expect, is a good example of how we’re already starting to see networks adopting lessons learnt from digital disruptors.
An edited version of this blog post appears on Network.