British utilities are failing to engage their customers and build loyalty, despite attempts to communicate more frequently, according to new research from Opower. The research revealed a number of  ‘moments that matter’ in the customer-utility relationship and found that utility customers typically want better communication – not more – at these important points in their dealings with their utilities.
The Opower study identified twelve critical moments, ranging from moving house, receiving a high bill, or experiencing a power outage, when customers wanted personalised information from their utility, yet these were some of the areas in which customers felt their energy providers performed the worst. Two thirds of the UK’s energy customers that have received unexpected high bills, for example, plan to switch utility, as a result.
“Most customers think about their energy provider for just a few minutes each year, and everyone is looking for ways to break through this supposed indifference,” said John Webster, vice president, International, at Opower. “But if you listen to customers it’s clear the solution lies not in telling them about great service provided or creating new reasons to contact them, but by making the customer experience better during the existing moments that are most important to them.”
 Opower’s ‘Moments That Matter’ study revealed that:
–       73% of UK customers who said they’ve received an unexpected high bill in the last 12 months, said it came as a surprise and 71% said that receiving the high bill had caused anxiety.
–        61% of UK customers who said they’ve received an unexpected high bill said they would be more likely to switch provider as a result.
–        More than 80% of customers say it is important for their utility to provide them with alerts for unusually high bills, helpful customer support, and information about rate changes. But less than half of these customers are satisfied with their experience during these interactions.
The survey revealed that customers’ perception of how their utilities performed at these critical moments — especially during the billing process — was the number one factor differentiating customers who intended to switch from those who didn’t. People who said their bill was easy to understand, received helpful advice from a call centre representative, or felt that arranging a connection was easy, were less than half as likely to consider switching providers.
The results indicate an opportunity for utilities: while reliable service and value remain important, nearly one third (30%) of British respondents said that improvements in customer service would actually have the biggest impact on satisfaction levels with their energy provider.
The research, part of Opower’s ongoing Customer Engagement research series included qualitative discussions with customer service executives from 12 leading utilities, analysis of call centre data from 15 utilities spanning 3 countries and a quantitative panel survey covering nearly 7,000 residential customers across 7 countries. The study was undertaken in December 2014.                              
Opower’s product strategy is increasingly focused on bringing value to the most important interactions of the customer experience while driving important outcomes for utilities in energy efficiency, demand response, lowering cost-to serve and increasing customer satisfaction. Last month, Opower announced its newest Customer Care solution, the Billing Suite, which reduces high bill call volume and call center handle times, while increasing customer satisfaction. In early tests, utilities using these products have reduced billing-related calls by up to 19%.