“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”
—T. S. Eliot
During the pandemonium of 2020, customers’ satisfaction with utility services hit an all-time high worthy of high fives (or high elbows) because of utilities’ great success in improving their core service functions. The scores from our Cogent Syndicated Utility Trusted Brand & Customer Engagement™: Residential study illustrate this increased satisfaction.
With the basic needs tier of Maslow’s hierarchy met for developing deep customer relationships, next-level utilities are focusing on building their brands, positioning themselves as best-in-class product providers dedicated not only to offering affordable energy but also to local communities and global issues. In fact, premier utilities don’t necessarily have the best service levels (according to customer feedback) but are the easiest to do business with, environmental champions, and overall trusted brands. Creating these perceptions among their customers allows top-ranked utilities to monetize their brands through greater engagement with enhanced service options, energy-efficiency offerings, and new energy products.
A strong brand is more than numbers—it is something customers feel and have an affinity toward. It is often more highly valued than the product itself. Therefore, strong brands are able to engage customers in deeper and more meaningful relationships.
High customer satisfaction with service is great but research shows that innovative utilities can’t monetize satisfaction, as it doesn’t cause customers to change behaviors. Customers who are happy with the way things are don’t have a reason to embrace change. Behavioral influence starts with a brand that appeals to its customers and is positioned as a trusted adviser.
This influence is based upon a change that occurs when customers see utilities as great brands instead of monopolies—customers want to do business with their utility instead of having to do business with it.
Regulators are moving past simple customer satisfaction as a meaningful measure as they set their sights on the need for utilities to engage customers in renewable resources, energy-efficiency offerings and community outreach. Research also shows that CSAT has little influence on regulator rate decisions. Instead, regulators have become more in tune with customer needs, as over half (54%) of the reasons customers would support a rate increase is to build brand characteristics (outreach, communication, environment) and expand energy-efficiency offerings.
In addition, stakeholder influence is tied to strong brand trust, as Wall Street has told the industry that stock premiums will be muted unless ESG goals are established and met (https://www.spglobal.com/en/research-insights/articles/esg-industry-report-card-regulated-utilities-networks). This means new customer directives need to be developed in 2021 that lead utilities to build and monetize their brands so customers trust and use new ESG-friendly offerings.
With the industry evolving in the new energy marketplace, utilities are expected to be more than power and gas providers: they are going to be challenged to retain their position as energy leaders and customer champions with new offerings and directions. Crafting a strong, meaningful and trusted brand is central to do in building this new future.
Twice a year we publish our Utility Trusted Brand & Customer Engagement™: Residential report which benchmarks the nation’s top 140 electric, natural gas and combination utilities to identify opportunities and trends in the industry. Click below to learn more about the full report and how we can help your utility successfully build it’s brand.