Delightful Customer Experience: A Game Changer for Utilities

By Natalie Cheng | Jun 25, 2015

This blog post is based on an interview with Fabrice Buron, the Vice President of Sales & Marketing, at ChaiOne.

With recent deregulations and pressure on price in the utility sector, it is now more competitive than it’s ever been to attract and retain customers. Utilities companies have been battling by expanding their offering into home services and playing on prices, rewarding customers’ long-term commitment. However, their efforts aren’t sufficient until they are able to give an effective and stellar customer experience.

The last thing a company wants is to provide a poor customer experience. There’s pressure for companies to change because now poor customer experiences and negative reviews can be easily expressed all over social media. In addition, customers can also easily switch to another provider when he or she isn’t happy with the company. How do you create stickiness or loyalty for companies? Everything is about the experience and it starts with how employees deal with them. This makes the tool that companies use to serve the customer crucial. The user experience from an employee standpoint has a direct connection to the end customer experience.

“Stickiness” comes with great user experience, but in reality for utilities companies, their ability to create this has been sometimes hindered by large legacy systems, mainly ERPs. These systems that they adopted 5, 10, or even 15 years ago were built without any end user in mind, but just for the purpose of tackling the functional process of getting the job done.

The Expensive Current Challenge: Siloed Information

The cliche about ERP user experience sounds like this: click, click, click, click, see what you need to see and then unclick, unclick, unclick, unclick to do the next steps. Typically, the ERP systems took several years to implement and cost millions of dollars. These old systems are usually highly customized to the nature of the business whether it’s for handling billing, customer management, procurement, operations, or asset management…

The current challenge that many enterprises are dealing with is a legacy system that was built 10 to 15 years ago with only departmental or functional views of the process. The system typically has a division or department view that creates these silos.

In general, when the system starts getting old or isn’t working very well, companies pick to upgrade the system. However, upgrading the system can be extremely costly and mean reimplementation. In addition, the designs of the platform are usually focused only on the functional process. The platform may provide the worker all the information that they need, but the design doesn’t take the user into consideration. If you’re looking to improve the user experience, then designing a new solution may just be more beneficial than upgrading your system.

Rethinking The Customer Journey From The Inside Out

When we talk about the user, there are two different categories: the user who runs the operations and the end consumer. These two aspects are in fact intimately linked to each other. Companies will have to look at it from the inside out: how they deal internally with customers in order to create a great customer experience. For instance, optimizing a customer care process to deal with a customer issue will deal with the time to resolve the issue and how to reduce it and ultimately how a customer can receive a proper resolution in a timely manner.

These old systems need to be rethought and redesigned with the user in mind. Redesigning current tools is limited by the framework, the technology boundaries of what they have. If companies choose to just upgrade to a new implementation of the same old software, it will be a huge undertaking and will have strong limitations from the existing framework. Just think about all the limitations to an SAP, Oracle, or JD Edwards software. In order to cater to the changing needs of the marketplace, many ERP companies have started promoting the new user experience. However, their efforts only catch up to current standards and aren’t exceeding them.

Instead of just choosing an expensive upgrade of the legacy ERP, companies should look into new ways to create a front end and design a solution that leverages the back end. By designing a new solution, companies will be putting the customer back into the center of the business. There is a trend towards a flat view of customers. Users will be able to grab information from different parts of the organization in order to have a complete, full view of the customer in the lifecycle. This will help strengthen the relationship with customers and provide a better overall experience.

So how would a new solution work? Imagine working on a system that deals with customer care. It would provide information with a customer’s profile, demographics, billing story, his or her current plan, and the lifecycle of the customer’s behavior towards your website and other services. Basically, the system would show the complete picture of a customer. Information would be flattened and decompartmentalized. This requires a change in how the company approaches customers and how it shares information. Companies will have to take ownership of the entire customer journey.

Reaping The Benefits of a Stellar Customer Experience

Choosing to redesign on top of a legacy system will help companies effectively leverage data and processes from the legacy system while optimizing the operation and the customer relationship. For example, by reducing time on task, a customer care system that we redesigned was able to decrease the number of steps to manage a deferred payment from 53 to 12 steps. In addition, the new design was able to reduce the number of systems from 4 to 1, where one system encompassed all the information that you needed. In order to create a new and optimal design, we had to revisit how people were working and understand the time on each task. The system was redesigned based on the key metrics laid out in order to optimize time on task by 20%. Ultimately, the new design enabled users to achieve an 80% reduction of time on task, which is four times more efficient. From a customer standpoint, it means much faster service while providing a direct impact in lowering operational costs.

One of the key criteria to success of a redesign is to measure systematically and test designs before you build anything. You need to create a process where you can catch the maximum number of errors before you even build a new system. This requires a scientific approach to the design, which is an effective way to guarantee the best chance of success and goal attainment.

The redesign can lead to a better ROI and less headaches rather than if you chose to roll out a full upgrade. Choosing to redesign the system with the user in mind is an effective way to make your processes better without having to redo it all later. So why do it? A 10% increase in customer retention levels will result in a 30% increase in the value of your company.
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