More and more utility companies, including those that operate in markets without customer choice, are waking up to the power of customer-centricity. Even regulated utilities with captive customers need to delight their customers to drive meaningful growth. That's because the primary source for growth is not in delivering undifferentiated electrons to captive customers, but in delivering innovative services that customers choose to opt in to (or out of).
Many utility companies take comfort in the fact that a majority of their customers are "satisfied." But unpacking the details behind this seemingly reassuring data is essential, and requires examining the extreme ends of their customer satisfaction curve, not the middle. Here are two topics every forward-thinking utility executive should know how to tackle:
Dissatisfied Customers: Which of our customers are extremely dissatisfied? And how can we change this?
Delighted Customers: Which of our customers are delighted with our services? How can we provide more valuable solutions to those customers encouraging word-of-mouth satisfaction in the marketplace?
The Risk of Dissatisfaction
Even if the dissatisfied customers are in the minority (perhaps the single digits), they represent a tremendous risk. How much risk? Just ask SunChips about the snafu over their biodegradable bags, or ask PG&E how a small but vocal minority completely changed the regulatory landscape for smart meters. Identifying dissatisfied customers and understanding what's driving their unhappiness is critical to minimizing risk from vocal minorities and avoiding the disappointment of more customers in the future.
The Return on Happy
Utilities should focus not only on their extremely dissatisfied customers, but also on their delighted customers. Every utility should intimately know their delighted customers. What is delighting them? How can you delight them with more valuable offerings? And how can you connect them with other customers and encourage them to become advocates and a valuable source of earned media?
Our experience shows that utility customers with "beyond the bill" experiences -- for example, interactions with energy efficiency programs -- are among those most likely to be satisfied and potentially even delighted; MidAmerican Energy [PDF] and Southern Company's [PDF] territory-wide smart meter deployment have earned these companies some of the highest customer satisfaction metrics in the industry.