Critical Traits of a Superior Utility Key Account Management Program

April 15, 2021
Author: Chris Oberle

Given the importance of large commercial accounts to utility financial health and local economies, utilities have developed key account management (KAM) programs to ensure these accounts receive the service and value-added support they desire. As we developed our first annual Utility Managed Account Performance report to help utilities maximize the effectiveness and value of these programs, we have uncovered the critical elements of KAM program success.

Key Account Managers

As managed account customer expectations have evolved over time, superior key account managers have emerged as customer champions and the most critical element of a KAM program. Key account managers have brought change to how their utility manages customers. Our survey of managed accounts across 80 major US utilities finds some key account manager groups are performing better than others. Customer satisfaction with account representatives ranges from a low of 6.6 to a high of 10.0 on a 10-point scale.

Expecting more than best-in-class service, key accounts now want their account manager to be a trusted adviser. Key accounts also expect their utility to align with their business’ priorities, particularly around energy management and sustainability goals. Their ideal utility would also be both innovative and community-focused.

Utilities invest in KAM programs for good reason. Managed accounts are a segment where a successful relationship results in future increased value. This is evident in managed accounts having higher use of enhanced offerings, especially alternative power options, consumption management and rate programs.

To excel on performing to expanded expectations, the most successful utility account managers have developed three professional qualities among their key account representatives to achieve high customer satisfaction: Service, Acumen and Proactiveness. At the end of 2020, Acumen rated above Proactiveness and Service rating components.

Service

Customer service satisfaction is extremely high (840 on a 1,000-point scale) when managed accounts call their account representative. However, key accounts go beyond standard service calls and embrace omniservice, using an average of five different service channels. The majority (80%) of managed accounts prefer to use an electronic or digital self-service option, while 21% prefer to call their account representative. It is imperative that account reps ensure their accounts are aware of service and product options by providing relevant outbound information.

Acumen

About 30% of managed account customers say the utility is positioned as a “trusted energy adviser.” Much of this credit goes to account managers, as the average rating on “trust account rep to do the right thing on behalf of the business” has an industry mean average of 8.23 and “understands my business needs” rates 8.24. Additionally, key account managers are rated significantly higher (8.27) on “having the technical knowledge to help the business.” All this means that account reps have the skills to advise customers at a high level. Account representatives support strong brand positioning for their utility, as one in three managed accounts says its utility is a leader on energy innovation. Overall, the best account representatives are experts at being experts. Entergy key account representatives are excelling, with mean ratings close to perfect 10s and the utility’s managed account program itself scoring 8.11 on exceeding customer expectations. Acumen is an important trait for reps to gain the respect of business customers and obtain buy-in for utilities’ future-forward innovation efforts.

Proactiveness

The secret to building both managed account customer engagement and a trusted adviser position is to be proactive with key accounts. For instance, over 80% of managed accounts say they were provided a recommendation upon service and over 90% followed the recommendation. Those receiving an actionable recommendation upon service are more likely to recommend enhanced utility products and programs to other businesses. And when account representatives are trusted advisers, 41% of managed accounts say the utility is a “great product provider.” Further, 60% of managed accounts that believe the utility is a great provider use utility energy efficiency/consumption management programs.

Being proactive is also important during critical events. For instance, 35% of managed accounts say they were “proactively contacted” by their utility when they had an outage and overall satisfaction for those customers is 20 points higher than overall managed accounts’. Wisconsin Public Service’s account representatives rate 9.82 on overall satisfaction. They also rate an average 9.38, significantly higher than the industry’s 8.22, on ratings that comprise proactiveness.

Ultimately, the payoff for having key account managers is tied to how well they forge strong and engaged relationships with managed accounts. Leveraging service touchpoints to show how well account managers understand the business needs of their assigned customers and then proactively engaging customers in the enhanced offerings and solutions their utility provides create the model KAM program. And these model programs are easier to quantify and justify to stakeholders.

These are just some of the findings from our new Utility Managed Account Performance report. This new report captures the changing expectations of major accounts and how well key account managers are performing at satisfying them, and provides a current understanding of what it takes to succeed with major accounts today. The full report also provides performance scoring to benchmark individual utility KAM program success and identify industry best practices. Send us a note to learn more about this report and how it can help you maximize the effectiveness and value of utility key account management programs.

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Chris Oberle
Senior Vice President, Energy

Chris Oberle is a senior vice president in our Energy division, with more than 25 years of executive management experience in the energy and financial services sectors. He manages the development and delivery of syndicated studies, custom research, best practices and advisory services. Throughout his career, Chris has earned a reputation as a customer experience thought leader by helping clients improve the way they develop, deliver, engage and satisfy customers with their programs and brands. Chris earned an MBA from Georgetown University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern California. He coaches youth sports and spends time with his kids at USC and UCLA.