How Utility Providers Can Prepare for the New Energy Consumer
Electric cars, rooftop solar panels, geothermal heat pumps. There’s a major shift happening out there. A new energy economy is emerging, with 9 out of 10 Americans agreeing that renewables can and should replace fossil fuels. They also agree that utility companies should offer more renewable options. As wind and solar become an inevitable part of our energy future, are companies ready to cater to new energy consumers? What will they need? What will they want? It will require a whole different level of customer support and here’s how companies can prepare…
A Peaking Interest in New Energy
The U.S. may lag behind European counterparts when it comes to renewable energy adoption, but with Biden’s ambitious plan to move to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, greener forms of energy are set to take off. We already see the changes in consumer mindsets and the move toward greener choices. Today, 92% of American consumers have at least one new energy-related service or product, and by 2030, renewable energy, like solar and wind, will account for over 35% of total U.S. energy consumption.
Much of the drive toward greener options has come from seeing the effects of climate change. Over 63% of Americans say they are “very worried” about climate change, compared to 36% back in 2016. In fact, most consumers are taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint. More than a quarter are considering buying an electric vehicle (EV) in the next three years. According to the IEA, 2021 set an all-time record for new solar panel installations and overall, renewable energy use saw a 42% increase between 2010 and 2020.
There is a great hunger for renewables, and as demand grows, there is also enormous potential for new revenue. However, some barriers remain, and surprisingly, it’s not just related to a lack of government subsidies, energy grids in need of upgrades, or even pricing. Installation costs that were once prohibitive are now in sharp decline. The cost of renewables has dropped dramatically, with utility-scale solar costs down 80% since 2018 (NREL).
Unbelievably, what often gets in the way are energy and utility providers that do not currently offer consumers the kind of customer experience that allows for an easy transition to greener energy.
Giving New Energy Consumers What They Want
Utility providers already have an advantage in the new energy economy. Unlike new entrants to the market and small-scale providers, utility companies already have existing relationships with their customers. In fact, a recent EY survey found that 50% of energy consumers say they would approach their utility provider first when searching for new energy solutions.
To come out ahead, energy providers should be the first to supply customers with the necessary education about renewables. Customers will have questions about installation and up-front costs, available rebates and government subsidies, and inquiries about billing and usage. It can be a steep learning curve for some. If you’re the first to educate your customers about renewables, your company becomes the go-to source of information. This goes a long way towards building consumer trust, and trust is always the precursor to new sales and wider adoption.
New energy consumers also don’t want to be limited to contact centers and traditional business hours. EY’s research shows that 8 out of 10 prefer digital interactions. To improve customer satisfaction scores, there needs to be several channels where customers can access support teams. People want the flexibility to go online to check energy use, pay their bills, or make an outage report. If they need help, they may prefer to start a chat or email. But with complex issues, you still need the human touch. 72% of customers still choose to speak to a human after navigating an IVR (Interactive Voice Response).
A new kind of customer care agent will also be needed. Digitally savvy and digitally trained, agents will need to supply helpful, personalized information, so they can help customers make more informed decisions about diversifying their energy sources. To offset revenue loss from programs like net metering, where customers can sell energy back to the grid, agents could also turn into advisors and sellers of all things energy related. They could position value-add services such as installation and maintenance, or solar panels, EV chargers, or smart thermostats.
Capturing the New Energy Consumer
Surveys show that new energy consumers are focused on three things: saving time (ease), saving money (affordability), and saving the planet (accountability), which are the same three areas that generate 90% of overall service satisfaction. Yet, half of energy customers are currently unsatisfied with their “Energy Experience”. According to J.D Power’s Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study, satisfaction levels dipped from 751 (out of 1,000) in 2020 to 748 in 2021. Reasons cited were lack of communication, rise in inflation, and poor customer service.
While not much can be done about inflation, the customer experience is something that providers can control. Having 24/7, reliable customer service is number one. In a changing energy economy, trends will be difficult to predict, volumes could be erratic and utility providers will need the flexibility to dial up or down on digital channels and/or voice support. Customer experience (CX) vendors like itel have the in-built capacity, tech infrastructure, recruitment, and training programs to ramp operations up or down as needed. We also have the technology to help companies digitize their consumer journey, through the custom design and integration of IVRs, automations, apps, and chatbots.
The new energy economy is waiting to unfold and those who come to the forefront, with an exceptional Energy Experience, will capture the rising star of new energy consumers. To do so, companies will need to be agile and will need to think creatively. itel’s flat-management structure gives you easy access to leadership and easy collaboration between operational teams, which allows you to act more quickly and to respond faster to changes in the market.
Learn more about our capabilities and how we can help utility providers.