Competing On Customer Service

There are three layers to the interaction between the customer and the utility, in most markets. There is i) the asset side where the power (the product) is generated and delivered ii) there is the operations side where the humans and machines work together to keep the assets running as a business and iii) the customer service and support side. For the most part, except when the product is not being delivered as expected, the customer only really cares about what goes on in the customer support and service side. That’s been the part of the industry where the most problems have always been, especially considering the 99.91% uptime that the industry has maintained over the last few years. And it is this consumer support/service side of the industry that presents the greatest danger to the industry.

While the utility industry knows this, it is not set up to address; the level of empowerment that the customers are getting from their other service providers. In the age of voice embedded systems and artificial intelligence, the historic data that the utility has on individual customer interactions will provide both aggregate level and individualized process improvement abilities. Abilities that will elevate the utilities’ capacity to better serve a different type of customer than the industry has ever been able to.

 

Personal Energy History from the Nest App.

This level of customization and ability to serve a customer of 1 will win the future of the utility industry. The point that keeps being made is that the company’s that are competing with the utility on the asset/generation side will struggle. What is being missed is that these companies, with Tesla and Nest being the most referenced, are truly competing on the customer mindset side and winning them over with communications and interactions that enable them to (almost certainly) eventually sell premium products.

 

Sample Powerbot chat.

It’s the Clayton Christensen disruption model where the disruptor provides less but critical service to the customer who has, up until the disruptor comes into the market, been over-served by the incumbent. There are no easy choices here for the incumbent. To avoid this fate, the incumbent will have to find partners that infuse these customer facing capabilities and assist the incumbents to compete for the heart of the customer. As customer expectations of service increase, daily, the incumbent’s capability will have to take advantage of the technological tools available to stay in the good books of the customers (and consequently, the regulators in regulated markets).