Centrica has appeared in the news several times in the past month, as it has demonstrated many of the challenges that Big 6 energy companies now face. From adapting strategy and cancelling its standard variable tariff to prepare for the introduction of fixed energy prices, to seeing its share price fall thanks to increasingly powerful, and increasingly mobile, consumers deciding to take their business elsewhere. As an experienced, successful business Centrica is already bouncing back from these challenges and preparing for those further in the future – such as how to best adapt to upcoming technology upheavals such as AI, augmented reality and an increasingly connected population. Ultimately, Centrica’s goal, as with any of the Big 6, is to make sure its customers are constantly informed, happy and ultimately loyal. After all, a business can weather many storms if it knows its customers are coming along. So, how do you make this happen? 

As consumers have access to more information, and more places to take their business if they’re unhappy, providers need to do more than simply communicate with customers. They have to have an ongoing conversation – one that engages the customer and keeps their interest. One challenge is to do this cost-effectively. For instance, Centrica sending a letter to every customer potentially affected by standard variable tariff changes will cost 26p just for postage, not to mention the average 14p cost of creating the document itself. These may seem like small costs, but when multiplied by British Gas’ 13.1 million customers, soon add up – especially as, if a conversation is to take place, there will need to be more than one letter. Aside from the cost perspective, organisations also need to consider whether the letter will communicate all the information the customer needs and whether it’s compliant with regulations and standards. Timeliness is also a key factor: customers won’t welcome only being informed of changes days before the happen. And can we be sure that the message has reached, and been read by, the right person?

Of course, it doesn’t stop there: businesses must also contact customers via digital channels. Not only do customers increasingly demand to converse in these ways, they also expect to get consistent information when they switch from one channel to the other. This can be a challenge, but also a huge opportunity for the organisation that can not only produce and send mail in the most cost-effective matter possible; but ensure that any communication presents the right information the customer needs – so that they’re getting the right message, at the right time, over the right channel.

Looking further ahead, there will also be newer technologies that can be exploited to carry on the conversation. For instance, how can AI make a customer’s experience smoother and more satisfying, or give customer service professionals extra support? Can augmented reality turn a simple conversation with a customer into an audio-visual experience that communicates much more information much more effectively? And, as new communication channels are added, can the conversation move smoothly onto those?

What does this mean in practice? Ultimately, it means that energy providers can do much more than, for instance, just inform customers of a change in tariffs. They can provide immediate access to the tariffs available, and let the customer change there and then. Or switch channels, so that a customer reached by SMS or email can instantly contact a call centre with one click, and find the person on the other end of the phone already has all the information needed to guide them through the process and choose the tariff that works best for their exact needs. In the future, they might have an AI on hand to change the customer’s tariff automatically; or be able to offer the customer a full guide to tariffs, and how to make their home more energy efficient, without the customer ever leaving their sofa.

The customer conversation just one part of the puzzle – but it can make all the difference between a satisfied customer who both knows and understands that they’re getting the best deal, and one that might think of making moves towards the competition. 

Be sure to grab a complimentary copy of this new white paper "The Future of Customer Experience in the Energy Industry" to learn more.

The Future of Customer Experience in the Energy Industry

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