While utility companies have greater access to consumers than ever before, the majority of UK customers still feel they are being left in the dark, according to research from Quadient. This spells bad news for traditional utility providers – with 91% of consumers willing to switch utility provider, many believe that the days of large, traditional utility companies are numbered. In a survey of 2,486 UK consumers aged 16 or older, fewer than a quarter (23%) believe their utility providers did enough to contact them the last time services were disrupted, such as during the ‘Beast from the East’. This is despite companies having more customer data than ever: yet three quarters (75%) of consumers said their own data isn’t used to help them at all – and worse, 14% say this is despite their provider promising to do so.
Consumers are unlikely to put up with this for long – more than half (52%) feel they have more power in their relationship with utility companies than they did five years ago, with the vast majority willing to switch their utility provider if they feel dissatisfied. Perhaps most concerning for traditional utility companies, 43% of consumers have already stopped using traditional providers in favour of an alternative or are planning to, while a further 41% believe things will get much harder for them.
“Today’s consumers have less and less patience for businesses that don’t know how to use their information – and none at all for those that don’t meet their own promises,” said Mustafa Atik, Utilities Expert at Quadient. “As new utility companies offer incentives such as a more personal service, companies must look at what consumers are demanding and find a way to meet – and ideally exceed – their needs, delivering a first-class customer experience. At the very least, if a provider has promised it will make use of customers’ data, it needs to not only use that data, but make the benefits highly visible to the customer themselves. Failure to do this will simply breed resentment.”
While 69% of consumers would switch utility provider because they found a cheaper alternative, other factors that would drive consumers to switch included inaccurate billing (44%), data breaches or security issues (33%), poor communication (30%), interrupted service (28%) and companies’ environmental record (20%).
At the same time, consumers are clear about what technology utilities companies should be using as part of their customer experience. While a small proportion said providers should be using technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (10%) or video chat services such as Skype or FaceTime (15%) as part of their customer experience, the most popular technologies were smart meters (44%), text messaging and chat (41%) and mobile apps (40%). This suggests that getting the basics right is a vital first step on delivering a complete digital experience. Even a relatively simple technology such as text messaging can provide a huge difference in quality of experience for a utility customer seeking to have a conversation with their provider.
“There are no clear winners or losers across the utilities. From gas to electricity, from water to telecoms, the message is the same,” continued Atik. “While cost might be the main concern for consumers, it is also clear that providers are more likely to hang onto their customers and even attract new ones if they can offer the experience people expect. This needn’t mean creating completely new technological experiences, but it does mean creating a platform that allows providers to have a conversation with their customers – whether over email, text message or via in-home smart meters. It means ensuring that information is recorded and shared accurately and appropriately, to reduce the risk of inaccurate bills, data breaches or miscommunication. And it means using that platform as the base to build new experiences, which will differentiate providers in an increasingly competitive industry where customer experience is becoming an important benchmark to regulators like Ofwat.”