Lasting Impacts of COVID-19 on Utility Customer Care

Part 1: Digital Transformation Whiplash

Stacey Bailey, Vice President –

Chartwell’s Scott Johnson recently sat down (via webinar) with customer experience leaders Stacy Kregg of New Jersey Natural Gas, John Bord of Tucson Electric Power,  and Tim Melton of LG&E and KU to discuss the lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the utility customer care model. Members of Chartwell’s Insight Center can access the webinar recording here.

During the conversation, three key themes emerged:

  • The exponential rise in customer expectations and reliance on self-serve digital channels
  • The increased need for care employees to demonstrate empathy
  • Utility and employee expectations around remote and flexible work arrangements

The first theme, and one we’ve all been hearing for years now, is that customer expectations are rising, and the utility customer experience is being judged against the likes of Amazon and Starbucks. The pandemic accelerated changes in the customer care model across industries – as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said, “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” A compounding effect is that customers’ patience has dropped just as quickly due to the availability of effective digital service pretty much everywhere now due to COVID.

The good news for our industry is that we don’t appear to have lost ground as of last summer, according to findings from Chartwell’s annual residential consumer survey, which is fielded each year in August. We look forward to seeing new findings in the 2021 survey, due out soon.

Demographically, digital self-serve channels are still more heavily preferred by the under-50 crowd, but older users got a quick education during COVID and, as functionality continues to become more intuitive, we expect this demographic to become increasingly engaged in self-serve channels.

Looking at Chartwell’s customer expectation and satisfaction research, two main areas of focus for utilities shuld be:

  • Proactive communication: Offer meaningful, relevant messages that remind and help customers do what is needed in a timely manner. Bonus points here for also allowing customers to complete the action within the same interaction; for example, pair bill reminders with click to pay, and high usage alerts with price plan enrollment.
  • Quick expansion of the digital self-serve portfolio: Emphasis should be on chat (preferably with a good bot) and mobile app. IT resources are always in high demand (now more than ever), so this is an important time to be flexible with roadmaps and obsessive about prioritization.
  • Shortening time to market is a key goal. Learning from other utilities’ experiences can help.

Look for part 2 of this blog, Serving with Empathy, in the next few weeks.