Leaders of energy and utilities (E&U) businesses are becoming increasingly focused on the business impacts of rapidly evolving technology. According to Protiviti’s latest Executive Perspectives on Top Risks Survey, many of these leaders see their companies struggling over the next decade to adopt digital technologies effectively, use data analytics and “big data” to drive competitive advantage, and keep pace with disruptive innovations enabled by advanced technologies like artificial intelligence (AI). New ways of working and the war for talent are also impacting how digital transformation is delivered across all firms. These macro trends are creating challenges, but also opportunities.
E&U companies that want to meet these challenges head-on need to take steps now to undertake or accelerate digital transformation projects that can keep the business nimble, competitive and add bottom-line value. That includes developing and implementing digitization projects that can help the company deliver an exceptional customer experience in a world where customers’ expectations about their digital interactions with businesses and brands have become exceedingly high. The “consumerization of all interactions,” including suppliers upstream and downstream, means that whether it’s the end consumer or somewhere else along the value chain, a high-end digital experience is expected.
In fact, digital initiatives focused on improving the customer experience should be a high priority for E&U firms — just as they are for businesses in other sectors, from financial services to media and entertainment, that fully recognize the mission-critical need to become more customer-centric. E&U companies will find digital transformation opportunities for the customer experience on two fronts.
Many E&U companies have progressed sufficiently to realize that providing consumers the ability to pay their energy bills digitally is important, but it’s not enough. For one, that experience needs to be simple, mobile and seamless as well as secure. Also, a growing contingent of energy-conscious consumers want access to data and insights about their energy consumption, including how much they use, how much they’re spending over time, and how their usage compares with that of other users in their area. The firms that do provide this today typically do it in static reports that come with the bill. Consumer expectations have moved ahead.
Providing this information digitally, and in a dynamic, dashboard-type format that consumers can conveniently access online or through a mobile app, can help drive customer engagement — and loyalty. Intelligent chatbots that can offer consumers information about products and services, handle basic queries, and even make recommendations can also enhance the customer experience. The combination of automation and AI can be a powerful way to increase customer engagement, loyalty and ultimately customer lifetime value.
These and other digital enhancements to the customer experience can create opportunities for E&U companies to inform customers about new services and upsell those offerings to them. However, we’re seeing few firms prioritizing investments for “outside in” digitization right now.
Here’s where many leading E&U companies are making strides, although most have still barely scratched the surface of what they could achieve digitally. Inside-out projects are designed to improve the experience of internal customers like field operations, or “field ops,” personnel. Importantly, many of these innovations can also enhance customer relations and create bottom-line value for the business.
The potential opportunity is significant. Energy companies on the leading edge of innovation in digitizing their field operations are seeing up to 40% lower costs and up to 30% higher productivity from workers among other positive outcomes. Following are just three areas where E&U companies can increase digitization in their field operations to help drive these types of results:
- Digital mobility: Field technicians and maintenance staff want to have information at their fingertips about their schedule and projects so they can plan appropriately and save time and effort on the job. And many of the customers they support now expect an “Uber-like” experience for understanding the status of service (e.g., where is the technician now, and how long until they arrive on-site?). A digital app with an intuitively designed, easy-to-use interface can help address expectations for both groups.
- AI and machine learning (ML): Among the myriad ways AI and ML can transform field ops are enabling predictive maintenance for identifying issues before they lead to service disruptions and prescribing solutions for problems. And with AI-powered analytics, the business can better understand how service ties directly to customer satisfaction — and sales.
- Real-time performance dashboards: Interactive dashboards that provide dynamic insight on performance can help bring sales, forecasting, dispatch and field personnel into alignment and improve decision-making and collaboration within and across those various functions.
Digitization Is a Journey — and It’s About More Than Technology
Whether they’re looking to enhance the customer experience from the outside in or the employee experience from the inside out, E&U firms need to decide upfront what that ideal experience will look like, and what they need to do to create it. This sounds simple, but it’s a foundational step many companies don’t devote enough time to. As a result, digital projects stall out, cost more than they should or fall short of expectations.
Another pitfall is assuming that technology alone will create that experience. It’s a pivotal component, obviously, but so too are the people and processes behind the initiative. For example, digitizing field ops will require aligning the right expertise and experience and taking steps such as:
- Setting up workshops with field service management and personnel to define gaps and opportunities in the current field operations role and also the customer experience. (Critical questions to address: What do customers want that we don’t provide today? How could we make the field operations job easier and more productive at the same time?)
- Interviewing business and technology stakeholders to understand current metrics, processes, technology assets, interfaces, applications and capabilities.
- Developing a road map for transformation that includes both quick wins and long-term capability building.
E&U firms will also need to apply agile methods to projects meant to digitize the customer experience. When it comes to combining the rapid pace of technological innovation with customers’ heightened expectations about the ease and quality of digital interactions, E&U firms should waste no time in getting innovations in front of customers, gathering their feedback and making improvements.
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