According to a recent report published by the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative, utility customers have a 75% satisfaction with their utility provider, second only to banks. The reason for this level of satisfaction? A combination of high-touch interactions with customer-service personnel combined with high-tech communications alternatives such as websites.
That’s where customer portals come into play. Customer portals with the right features provide innumerable benefits for the utility and the end-user alike. Customer portals are a way for customers to self-serve, which means that they can access actionable information about their accounts without contacting a customer-service representative.
Portals can vary greatly in capabilities, user interfaces (UI), and data views. When looking into a customer portal, it’s important to understand what specifications will best benefit your utility and your goals while simultaneously meeting your customers’ expectations.
Customer portals for utilities should have the following 5 features (or be working towards them).
1. Bill pay capabilities
A main reason that customers access a customer portal is to view and pay their bills, so it is imperative that any customer portal support these functions. The portal should also let customers set monthly budget goals and personalized alerts for energy and money savings. Billing is integral to a customer portal as it streamlines operations by reducing the number of inquiries to customer service representatives (CSRs) and streamlines operations.
2. 24/7, multichannel access to consumer data
Today’s consumers expect access to their accounts and data on whatever device they are using, whether a telephone, table or computer, 24/7. Customer portals should provide usage data in hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly increments and provide the tools customers need to understand their usage data. And these features should be available on any device they are using.
3. Data Analytics
Data analytics are important to the effectiveness of any customer portal because they help to inform CSRs and to educate the end-user. The analytics provided, however, can vary greatly from portal to portal.
Important data analytics metrics the every portal should offer include:
- Overall electric, water and gas usage
- Breakdown of how appliances use energy via disaggregation
- Month-to-month comparison of energy use
- Information about when customers can expect peak demand
- Explanation of time-of-use rates
4. Streamlined User Interface
A streamlined and simple user interface (UI) is critical to a customer portal. A customer must be able to navigate the portal with ease to maximize its effectiveness. Each user screen should be presented in a simple, easy-to-read format that minimizes the amount of text. Another must for a utility customer portal is that it is visually captivating and provides diverse information useful to customers. Offering a wide array of easy to synthesize visuals in the form of graphs, charts, and tables will ensure that all customers have access to data they understand best.
Gamification is the next frontier in consumer engagement platforms. Although there are many forms of gamification, the premise is to encourage customer action by engaging them in a game that results in them taking a preferred action. Successful incorporation of gamification in a customer portal requires:
- A clear concept that appeals to a specific community
- An end goal
- Competition and or collaboration
- Continuous feedback
- A points system and an enticing reward
Some examples of rewards include charity programs, coupons, and rebates. Gamification, if done right, can add to your engagement strategy and provide added value to your customer portal.
Successful gamification and gamification can be found in a myriad of industries and across many different platforms. One successful and unique example of gamification can be found in the app Fortune City. Fortune City is an expense-tracking app that gamifies financial literacy by using a points system and ranking. The end goal of the game is for users to make financial decisions that will help create their dream live. A similar game for a utility might offer incentives to conserve or peer comparison as motivators.
In conclusion, it is important to incorporate these five capabilities in order to create a mutually beneficial customer platform that is effective, informative, and achieves your business goals. The key to customer engagement is to present data the consumer wants to see, in a way that the consumer can synthesize and in the medium of their choosing. As consumer expectations continue to shift and change portal technology will take many shapes and forms but the need for customer self-service will remain the constant.