The right path for utilities

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At the recent EMACS Conference in Orlando, which is dedicated to fostering the best practices in customer experience for utility companies, I was struck by the marked difference between the customer experience believers to what I would coin as the “lip service” crowd.

The believers formed two camps. These are deregulated utilities that are competing against numerous competitors for the first time (foreign conglomerates, other deregulated utilities with capitalistic desires and alternative energy companies). Then there are the select enlightened regulated utilities, fresh off a brief scare from Google and others who want to take the customer relationship to the connected Smart Grid.

The “lip service” folks do have customer service representatives that truly want to develop customer relationships. However, when pressed, they informed conference goers that their primary customer service programs in 2011 included internal campaigns to raise senior executives’ concern about the customer relationship or how they executed minor improvements such as changing how they describe their customers. For example, the nomenclature now includes addressing customers by their names, instead of referring to them as a number or an “account.” Clearly, the lip service group still has a long way to go.

It is an interesting time in the industry. Most feel within the next two decades the combination of deregulation and alternative energy will force the hand of monopolies that simply increase rates when they feel it is necessary. These companies will be far behind future competitors who understand what our esteemed Kathleen Kindle wrote in her blog post: “Why utilities should care about branding.” To quote Kathleen: “A well-articulated brand platform gives an organization—no matter what they do—a purpose, a decision-making framework, differentiation from competition and a reason for customers to engage in a truly meaningful relationship.”

The right path is clear. The question is: When will monopolistic utilities be forced to make the step toward engaging their customers and, even if they do, will it be too late?

Peter Damon is vice president of business development for the Siegel+Gale Los Angeles office.

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