Is your C.U.P. (Customer Utility Portal) helping you?
Think of an app or a web portal you use on nearly a daily basis (if not hourly). Or, better yet, open it while you're reading this article. But before you get into the flow of using the portal, start thinking about the portal. What has brought you there? Why do you engage with it so often? What about the user experience makes it easy to use? And finally, what does that app or portal say about the company that has built it for you?
Here's an example. My home internet provider has an app that lets me test my connection and restart the network if I need to, set profiles for myself and my kids (and restrict their connectivity time), and find weak Wi-Fi spots in the home. I use it a few times a week in the frequent negotiations with one of my teenage sons on his gaming hours. It's simple and intuitive. The one thing I wish were easier is identifying which connected devices are which and to whom they belong.
What does the experience say about this company? They've figured out that a lot of the calls they must have received can be solved using a phone; and they know that I'm focused on security, reliability, and device management. But I don't know anything about the company itself. Another provider with a comparable app could get my business, and I have no loyalty to the company short of the hassle factor of changing.
Now go to your own utility customer portal. No, really, I mean it. Go there.
Oh, that's your online bill payment portal. So where does a customer go if there's water running in the street from a burst pipe? And, your website -- which page? Oh, they have to call? If there's a tree leaning on a power line? Ah, different web page. Which page? Tree trimming? Home or irrigation system audit? Rebates? New service?
If you are like most utilities, there isn't a true customer portal. Yes, there's a specific location where a customer logs in and can do a few things, and what they can do there says a ton to your customer on what you care about. For example, if it's an online bill payment portal, then your customer's experience tells them that you care about getting paid.
There are really, really good reasons why utilities have multiple portals. Individual utility departments with specific functions have used specialized software to get their jobs done for decades. Those departments need to move forward to solve their problems, and they aren’t rewarded for the additional time and cost to bring in other departments on their software. The effort to specify, purchase, and configure an enterprise system is herculean. And the volume of “outlier” requests is often low that it doesn’t justify anything more than a webpage or even phone call to address.
But if you were to walk up to a house and there were 15 different front doors -- each with a different style, size, location and color -- how would you feel about knocking on any of those doors?
Utility Portal Product Comparison
AIQUEOUS researched 12 different utility customer portal solutions in the market and found a wide range of available features. While bill payment and usage history were consistent across all platforms, there was wide variation on bill management, customer service, utility service requests, customer programs and rebates, and online help. Only two of the 12 portals helped with service requests, and three of the 12 supported the delivery and management of customer programs and rebates.
If you would be interested in a product comparison webinar, please click here and let us know. Even with these portal features, there’s still a gap in connecting what matters to you with your customers.
A recent survey by AIQUEOUS showed energy and water utilities agreeing or strongly agreeing that climate change and drought will shape strategic plans in the next five years.
My energy utility has a commitment to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 and a website on Environmental Excellence detailing its strategies to get there, which include the need for customer engagement -- green power purchase, customer renewable energy, and energy efficiency programs . But, while my customer portal supports billing, energy use analysis, and start / stop service, there is no connection to those Environmental Excellence strategies. For most customers who use the portal, it wouldn’t occur to them that they’d need to go to another web page -- or multiple pages -- to engage with their utility.
Do I Need a Soul if There’s No Choice?
This may not matter to utility leadership if there’s a perception that customers have no alternative to the utility. But that myth has been under attack for nearly a decade in both the water and energy sectors. It’s just not true at this point.
You may have heard about this snowstorm we had in Texas a month ago. Stories are making the rounds about the folks who had PV panels and a Tesla battery system and how they skated through the storm without problem. Or my friends who are in the market for water coolers (especially this awesome water cooler / K-cup brewer combo!), and despite the snow, are looking to rainwater harvesting systems to deal with the drought.
Those actions will hit the utility right below the meter -- and there isn’t an engagement platform that customers are visiting regularly to prove that the customer isn’t on his / her / their own.
Utilities need to start demanding platforms that align with their strategic needs, and platform suppliers need to give utilities platforms to help.
AIQUEOUS is here to amplify the positive impacts that you have on your communities, and our vision is to become your platform of choice. Get in touch with us to learn more.