Why Customer Engagement?
Customer expectations have rapidly changed. 77% of Americans now own a smartphone and 86% are active on social media. People receive 121 emails a day on average and spend 11 hours a day on their media gadgets. The manner in which we engage with the world around us has evolved.
People have also become accustomed to receiving timely and targeted communications from their service providers: credit card companies, energy utilities, cell phone providers, internet service providers, and many more. Yet, within the water industry, a century of silent service has resulted in an aversion to proactively engaging with customers. Water utilities have adopted a reactive strategy of waiting to hear from customers, but this approach is out of touch with the needs of the modern customer.
Shifting to a proactive engagement strategy helps utilities as they face critical infrastructure investments which often require publicly approved rate increases. This means offering digital solutions that puts information at the fingertips of customers is becoming non-negotiable. If a utility doesn’t adapt to these changing demands, their customer service ratings will be adversely impacted.
Recent Findings on Customer Satisfaction
The J.D. Power Water Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction study provides insights into actions utilities can take to make measurable improvements in customer satisfaction.
J.D. Power has conducted an annual Water Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study since 2016 to measure satisfaction among residential customers of water utilities. The 2018 Satisfaction Study clearly highlights how proactive customer engagement for water utilities impacts the satisfaction of customers.
Frequent Communication Maximizes Satisfaction
Customer who recall multiple communications from their water utility have satisfaction scores 14.8% higher than those who don’t recall any messages. This means that the utility has delivered a communication AND the customer has internalized the message and remembered the interaction. Given the high number of communications people receive each day, utilities need to consider how their messages will cut through the clutter.
Communication is Key When Implementing Upgrades
When customers are made aware of system upgrades, satisfaction scores are 5.8% higher than those who experience no service interruptions. Put another way, customers prefer to be notified of an inconvenience than to not be inconvenienced at all! This data point is one of the most surprising. While providing uninterrupted service is the primary goal for water utilities, engagement plans should be in place to communicate possible service interruptions.
Electric Bill Satisfaction is Higher Than for Paper Bill
Billing and payment satisfaction is much higher among customers who receive their bill electronically from their utility. Unsurprisingly, customers appreciate the convenience and ease of access of electronic billing over traditional, paper-based bill information. This is one of many indications that the water industry is beginning to undergo a digital transformation. Changes are ocurring throughout the utility, including customer communications.
A Guide to Customer Engagement
Customer engagement begins with proactive messaging across a variety of communication channels to reach end-users at the time and frequency of their choosing. But to realize the long-term benefits of more engaged customers, utilities must implement new business practices and technologies.
Customer engagement is not simply a buzz word, but a practice that delivers measurable benefits to utilities and end-use customers. Utilities that take an ongoing, active approach to customer engagement are poised to reduce costs, improve operational efficiency, and increase customer satisfaction. How, you might ask? The answer is Total Customer Engagement, an omni-channel, proactive communication framework that puts actionable insights directly into the hands of end-users.
The need for a customer engagement strategy is clear, but developing a plan can feel daunting given the variety of conflicting priorities at a water utility. To support utilities as they shift their approach from silent provider to proactive communicator, WaterSmart has assembled a guide on best practices for successful Total Customer Engagement. Read it now, email it to yourself for later, or share with a colleague to encourage change at your utility.
Step 1: Where to start?
Each water supplier must determine which tools are best for their organizational goals. It may be tempting to simply deploy a rudimentary Customer Portal, but before investing in technology it is important to first understand what outcomes you are trying to achieve and how you will measure success.
Getting Started with Customer Engagement
A platform or a portal, what is right for you?
The term ‘Customer Engagement’ can mean different things to different people. When we think of engagement in the water industry, we think about how your customers can access and act on information that is of particular importance to them. Utilities must consider what their approach will be to accomplish this goal. While simply turning on a Customer Portal and waiting for customers to register may seem like the easy thing to do, WaterSmart recommends a more comprehensive approach with a self-service and customer engagement platform.
You may be wondering about the difference between a portal and a platform. Let us help to define it.
First, consider how information gets to your customers. While a portal may be feature-rich and full of information, it is only valuable once a customer gets there. Customers are required to seek information and ‘pull’ it from a portal in order to receive value. Utilities are expecting a lot out of their customers if they think they will take this initiative, particularly given Accenture’s consumer survey which states the average customer spends just 8 minutes a year thinking about their utility. A customer engagement platform, however, pushes actionable information directly to the customer in a timely manner while also providing an option for customers to selectively access additional data when they see fit. By pushing communications to customers at relevant times, utilities reduce customer calls and improve the quality of utility-customer interactions.
Next, utilities must consider the channels through which they share their communications. If relying on a portal alone, customers may be able to access information on mobile and web interfaces. However, communication options are vastly expanded with a platform that can take advantage of mobile and web interfaces in addition to text, voice, email, and print. When utilities are more easily able to reach customers across multiple channels, they see greater returns on their efforts in the form of reduced staff time and cost to serve.
Finally, platforms and portals are differentiated by the requirement for registration. Portals require registration for access to data. Platforms take advantage of customer contact information to deliver actionable insights without registration. WaterSmart pays special attention to this, by providing value to customers before burdening them with creating a login or registering for a new system. For example, our industry first closed loop Leak Alerting and Resolution system sends automated leak alerts to customer via email, automated voice, and text and sends customers into a resolution flow to help them locate and resolve a suspected leak without needing to contact their utility or being required to register for a portal.
The WaterSmart Customer Engagement Platform empowers utilities by avoiding these typical shortcomings of a stand-alone portal and delivers powerful solutions that increase customer satisfaction, reduce costs, and improve operational efficiency.
Step 2: Master Timely Alerting
Providing timely notifications and alerts to customers is critical to boosting customer satisfaction. When 5 utilities’ customers were surveyed to gather their reaction to receiving alerts, 95% expressed overwhelming appreciation for the service.
Automated Alerting & Notifications
According to the Insurance Information Institute, “water damage and freezing” was the 2nd most frequent home insurance claim from 2011-2015 and resulted in an average homeowner loss of $8,861. Water damage is probably a lot more common than most people think. In fact, approximately 14,000 people experience some type of water damage at home or at work each day. That’s nearly two-thirds of a sellout crowd in Madison Square Garden in New York City. Utilities need a solution that will immediately notify customers in the event of an issue and provide information that will boost their overall experience as a customer.
While the threat of water damage is concerning for its potential impact on customer satisfaction, a surprisingly high bill is potentially even more damaging for the utility customer relationship. Everyone has experienced bill shock at some point. In fact, a high bill is something that 40% of customers reported experiencing during the past 12 months and a full 72% of those customers admitted it was a source of anxiety. Providing proper warning and a delightful user experience gives utilities an opportunity to create a positive impression on their customers, even in the midst a bout of bill shock.
Notifications and alerts sent straight to customers via the appropriate channel provide important and timely information around the most common customer issues. The ability to solve customer’s problems before they even have them with instant communication and active engagement will give your customers a revolutionized customer experience.
WaterSmart provides alerts to customers to notify them of potential high volume or continuous leaks, to notify a customer that they have reached a self-selected consumption threshold, or to inform customers before the end of the billing cycle that they are likely to have higher water usage than normal on their upcoming bill. These alerts can be sent through multiple channels–email, SMS text message, automated voice call, or print. Leak resolution and Bill Explainer take these alerts a step farther, by providing self-help to customers to identify and resolve the source of the problem.
Step 3: Target the Right Audience
With WaterSmart’s Lists, utilities can create custom lists of accounts to analyze consumption or communicate with. By drawing a polygon on a map utilities will pull all accounts from a certain area and be able to proactively communicate with them regarding service outages or construction in their area all within moments.
Mass Customized Messaging
The traditional topics utilities communicate with their customers regarding are fairly limited–billing, quality, programs, outages– and they don’t capture the full breadth of the customer lifecycle thus leaving out many chances for the utility to positively engage customers on a range of other topics. There are a wide variety of other key moments, watershed moments, that are opportunities for utilities to communicate with their customers. How can utilities do so in a broad, customized, and predictive manner in order to yield benefits to customers and utilities alike? By leveraging modern, digital technologies to formulate a balanced portfolio of communications. A few examples of these opportunities are below.
Build a path to advanced metering infrastructure
Utilities are increasingly evaluating new advanced metering technologies to reduce non-revenue water, drive down the operational costs of data collection, and gain greater visibility into meter asset health. Yet, deploying AMI systems is a costly and sometimes controversial endeavor. This is when utilities should look to customer engagement platforms to ease the transition with targeted communications that prepare customers for the upcoming change. WaterSmart empowers utilities to segment customers into deployment regions, helping to target communications and educate customers about any disruptions in service and billing changes as they come about.
Ease the pain of rate increases
Generating stable revenues is essential for every water utility, and rate increases are often necessary to improve the financial health of the utility. Unfortunately, these increases can attract significant public scrutiny and can derail implementation, further eroding financial health. Crafting effective and targeted messages to customers can play a pivotal role in smoothing over these changes with customers. Listen in to this WaterSide Chat with industry experts identifying the most persuasive communication methods utilities have successfully used to gain support for rate increases.
Build excitement for your community events
If utilities depend on bill inserts to carry their messages they are often limited by the nature of the billing schedule. Getting content out to customers in a timely fashion can become problematic. This can be incredibly frustrating when your utility has spent time and money putting together a thoughtful community event and you can’t stimulate interest. If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, did it really fall? The same goes for an event. If a utility plans rain barrel training and no one knows about it, did it even happen?
Group Messenger is a module within WaterSmart’s Utility Analytics Dashboard that allows rapid delivery of targeted, timely, and topical messages to groups of customers. The integrated ‘Lists’ tool allows utilities to create a custom list of accounts they wish to communicate with. The possibilities with Group Messenger are endless, a utility can use it to reach out to their highest users, inform a defined geographic region of a boil water notice or service outage, target delinquent customers that they have a pending bill, and more! Messages can be sent across multiple channels, including email, SMS text, and automated voice calls.
Step 4: Start Tracking Success
Total Customer Engagement
Every open, click, log-in, registration, response, and answer matters.
Power of Total Customer Engagement
WaterSmart’s engagement platform is a step above a simple customer portal, it pushes information out to customers, provides multiple channels for data access, and delivers actionable insights without barriers for access. By employing all aspects of an engagement platform, utilities are able to increase the reach of their customer outreach. WaterSmart’s partner utilities experience 80% total customer engagement across all channels: automated voice, print, SMS text, email, mobile, and web.
Key Metrics of Success for Total Customer Engagement:
- Reduced customer service costs from automated communications, self-service tools that help customers resolve problems on their own, and the digital conversion of customer
- Improved operational efficiency through digitization and automation of laborious, manual processes
- Measurable increases in customer satisfaction from better service and greater understanding of the value of water
The value of adopting the total customer engagement approach comes from actionable insights across multiple data sets and communication channels and not falling victim to settling for information presentment.
An effective customer engagement platform saves your utility time and money by automating processes, but the main objective is to improve your utility’s customer experience as well as provide additional value to your customers that will leave them satisfied with you as a service provider.
Through the WaterSmart customer engagement platform, your utility will be able to offer next-generation engagement tools that completely revolutionize the experience your customers have with your utility.