It all started in the 1990s. Ongoing legislative changes in the utility sector have produced a gradual shift on the pricing and delivery of electricity from strict government regulation to the impact of market forces. Natural gas and green solutions like solar and wind power have also come under review. Non-utilities now have direct retail access to residential consumers in 18 jurisdictions throughout the U.S. and Canada, representing more than 39 million residential accounts1. Of those, 44 percent receive services2 from a retail energy provider (REP), as of year-end 2014.
Although the legislative environment is still very much in flux, utility companies increasingly recognize the need to restructure their approach to service delivery and customer support as with any consumer product or service, new technologies and an increasingly emboldened user base demand greater attention to the consumer relationship.
In this highly controlled industry, demand from utility providers, REPs and consumers to provide more immediate and flexible options for customer care has placed pressure on regulators to redefine interaction with consumers. Currently, Utilities and Energy Suppliers must adhere to strict protocols related to communication—specifically these protocols dictate the frequency and channels through which issues related to service and payments can be conducted. As a result, many companies have moved to un-silo their Care and First Party collections teams and combine them to form a more cohesive and unified operation for three key reasons: Consistency, Focus on Customer Experience, and Improved Revenue Recovery.
Alorica, a contact center outsourcing leader in the Energy Utility sector, has introduced Financial Care (through its subsidiary, EGS Financial Care, Inc.) to help meet the growing shift in the service mix in the industry that focuses on Care, First Party Collection and Omnichannel flexibility. These services help Utilities bridge the gap between regulators and the millennial generation, who prefer Web-based self-service options and appreciate the sense of empowerment that comes from different delivery models (such as prepaid energy).
As they consider how to better support the stakeholders at all levels, utility regulators and electricity providers should consider the following market trends:
- Consumers are increasingly mobile.Smartphone technology and cloud-based systems have made it possible for people to manage their utilities anywhere, anytime – everything from turning devices on and off, to re-programming their thermostat settings, to making a payment. And as technology continues to advance, consumers will look for further innovation from utility providers related to mobile platforms.
- Consumers want more control over costs.The idea of prepaid electric service – based on previous consumption rates – has already gained traction with consumers who are now seeing energy savings between 5.5 and 14 percent3. However, this model brings with it new challenges; specifically, protecting customers who may underestimate their usage, particularly because utility companies have more leeway in terms of shutting off service4.
- Smart meters mean more programs. Smart meters, which measure energy usage in increments as small as every 15 minutes, have opened up opportunities for time-based rate programs. Rather than being billed based on flat or tiered rates, consumers can benefit5 from the variability over time in the cost to produce electricity and see a cost saving through dynamic rates. Energy companies potentially can capture a greater market share if they can explain the pricing models effectively and provide tools for customers to self-check meter readings.
New developments in technology, combined with the removal of barriers to entry for retail choices, means that utility providers must address changing consumer preferences, or be left behind with antiquated systems and processes. From innovative pricing models and payment plans to self-service options and mobile-friendly tools, electric companies that take an omnichannel approach to customer care and support have the opportunity to effectively differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive market and foster further positive change for the industry as a whole.
When you consider this dramatic industry shift and the cost and timing associated with implementing change, many utilities and energy marketers are beginning to shift responsibility and accountability to outsourced customer contact center relationships. Companies like Alorica have the depth of experience, resources and PCI-compliant technology to seamlessly extend the existing platforms and capabilities within the in-house Utility contact center while blending omnichannel solutions—eliminating significant capital expense, time delay and HR challenges.
Through outsourcing, Utilities are introducing new services today that are strengthening customer experience and satisfaction ratings. Talk about a brighter outlook for everyone.