Article | July 1, 2019

8 Ways To Make Utility-Customer Communication Seamless Across Digital Channels

By Mia Papanicolaou

If a water utility is going to use digital communication to enhance the customer experience, it needs to ensure that it does so as seamlessly as possible.

An increasing number of utilities are seeing how the customer experience is evolving throughout their journey to digital transformation. Along with that change in customer experience, how we communicate and what we say become all the more important. It’s no longer merely about sending communication. It’s about using digital communication channels to create the most seamless customer experience possible.

That means ensuring that the entire experience is digital. It’s no good, for instance, for a utility to send out its bills digitally and persist with paper-based collections notices.

But that’s just the start. There also needs to be consistency in the tone and style of messaging sent out by the utility, no matter what department from which it originates.

Here are eight steps utilities can take to ensure that they achieve this kind of seamless digital communication:

1. Understand the digital customer and the channels available

In the past, organizations could get away with dictating how they communicate with customers. But today’s digitally savvy customers expect organizations, which includes their utility providers, to communicate with them in the channels they prefer.

Understanding customers’ digital preferences and what their preferred channel of communication is for a particular message or task is becoming all the more crucial.

2. Deliver the right message at the right time to the right customer

The right message and the right time, using the right channel, are becoming the norm. The message a customer receives must be relevant and timed effectively to create a moment that matters. Understanding the urgency of the communication vs. how content-rich the message needs to be will help determine whether the channel used is the right one — for example, using text messaging during a storm and sending the all-important bill using email, since it carries so much more information.

3. Monitor customer behavior and engagement

One of the best things about digital communication is the rich data it provides, but that data is only useful if you monitor it. A way to really maximize the reporting analytics from digital communication is to understand how and when customers engage and improve communications accordingly.

4. Link customer engagement information to profile data

Understanding how a customer engages and mapping that information back to profile data on hand make for a powerful knowledge base in a world where data is key to better customer understanding, relationships, and overall customer experience. Customer engagement data can be combined with individual customer profile data to inform what kind of messaging each customer receives and that it’s as effective as possible.

5. Use hyper-personalization

When it comes to bridging the relationship gap, speaking to customers as individuals is imperative, and that can only be done with having data on hand. For utilities, targeted and personalized messaging is especially critical. Not only are communications about downtime in their area important, but personalized messaging about usage and the impact certain tasks have on that usage can foster a sense that their utility knows who they are, improving their overall perception of the organization.

6. Look at the customer digital journey and communicate effectively throughout

Understanding the customer journey and mapping out communications against that journey are proving to be more vital for utilities. Providing a seamless welcome as they move into a new home, with information to help them along the way such as how to interact, when to expect their bill, and understanding their bill, is a simple yet effective way to ensuring customers feel like they have the information they need from the utility at the moment they need it.

7. Audit communications annually, at the very least

Setting up automated communications is a pivotal part of sending messages at the right time to customers; however, utilities should audit these operational communications, ensuring the content is still relevant and each message is still a vital cog in the digital journey. Without the audit, you could find that irrelevant messages set up many years prior are confusing to customers and could cause a digital fracture in your well-thought-out digital strategy.

8. Make constant improvements to communications

Always be mindful of ways to improve communications. As technology evolves, so, too, does the way we interact and communicate. As part of the audit, look at ways you can improve the messages that will not only increase customer engagement, but also improve the all-important customer experience overall.

Recognizing The Wider Context

Ultimately, utilities need to be aware that customers have this kind of seamless experience with dozens of the companies they interact with on a daily basis. They’ve come to expect it. While utilities are unlikely to lose customers in the short-term because they don’t cater to these expectations, they have much to gain in terms of better relationships with their customers and the perceptions among customers of the value they provide.

About The Author

Mia Papanicolaou, COO of Striata, heads up the company’s North, Central, and South American operations, providing strategy and direction for both internal teams and clients alike. Papanicolaou is a regular speaker on digital customer communication and improving the customer experience. She started her career in South Africa in the media sector before moving to the electronic messaging space, where she served as business director for email marketing provider eMessageX. She joined Striata in 2006 as head of email marketing. Papanicolaou moved to the UK as head of operations in 2010, whereafter she moved to the U.S. in 2013 to take up the post of general manager of the U.S. region.