We know from recent J.D. Power studies that as energy rates have increased, business customer satisfaction has taken a hit. But rising rates don’t have to equate to low customer satisfaction.
“In fact, the handful of electric utilities that are getting the business customer engagement formula right are able to maintain or even drive higher levels of satisfaction and affordability perceptions,” says Adrian Chung, Director of Utilities Intelligence at J.D. Power.
From sharing transparent communications to educating customers about programs and energy-saving technologies, there are many ways utilities can increase business customer satisfaction.
Our recent webinar, “Proven Ways Utilities are Improving Business Customer Satisfaction,” provided takeaways and insights into achieving increased CSAT from Derek Rahn with Louisville Gas & Electric and Kentucky Utilities (LG&E and KU), Ammanuel Moore with Baltimore Gas and Electric (BG&E) and Sarah Sharp, Business Development Consultant with Questline Digital (previously with Entergy.)
“Go Beyond” with LG&E and KU
LG&E and KU serves over 1.3 million customers, with 35% of its total customer base being business customers. Additionally, 60% of the utility’s revenue comes from business customers. This means that the utility puts an extensive focus on ensuring it communicates consistently and proactively with this group of customers.
Rahn shared that LG&E and KU aspire to be the best utilities in the United States and the initiatives they run are all in support of this goal. In addition to providing safe, affordable, reliable and sustainable energy, LG&E and KU strives to be a utility that customers can turn to and rely on.
“To meet these needs of our customers, as well as the company as a whole, we try to push for customer satisfaction and customer experience at the forefront — going beyond and enhancing every interaction we have with customers and the communities that we work with,” says Rahn.
LG&E and KU rank higher than other similarly sized utilities within their regions for the clarity, functionality and navigation of its website and mobile app. Additionally, Rahn says they use a multitude of tools to reach and connect with customers outside of the website, including:
- Vehicle wraps
- Web postings
- Sponsored facility signage
- Face-to-face interactions
“It’s not just while we’re on the clock, doing these particular actions, it’s even in the off-clock type scenarios where we’re making phone calls with customers or just having sidebar conversations as to how their day-to-day activities are going and what is working for them and what is not,” says Rahn. “Our goal is to go beyond and enhance every interaction we have with those customers and the communities that we’re servicing on a day-by-day basis.”
LG&E and KU also focus on interacting with customers face-to-face to continue relationship-building and extend communications past video screens or phone calls.
“It’s the face-to-face time to answer not just their day-to-day questions, such as billing related concerns or power usage concerns, but also questions along the lines of, how can we better provide you service or better your own operations at your particular plant or facility,” says Rahn. “It’s those types of relationships that have helped us build on and go into the future.”
Shifting Mindsets with BG&E
BG&E is one of six utilities spearheaded by Exelon, which is the largest utility company in the United States and services 10.6 million electric and gas customers. BG&E specifically services 1.3 million customers, with 10% of this group being business customers.
BG&E’s Large Customer Services team is designed to be a trusted energy advisor to customers, meeting and exceeding their needs through strategic partnership, proactive assistance, meaningful innovation and relevant communications.
The team’s purpose is to identify how to make commercial customers’ experience better with BG&E. The team consistently asks themselves questions like,
- How do we improve the ease to do business with BG&E?
- How do we improve the customer experience?
- How do we leverage our internal and external networks to improve our customer’s operational performance?
- How do we better anticipate customer needs such that we can avoid problems and create efficiency.
- How do we effectively inform customers of important BG&E programs and services?
- How do we generate program interest?
Moore explains that servicing large business customers comes with common issues that the team tries to solve in the present and for the future.
“When you work in a large customer organization, you’re going to always have incoming calls about some very routine issues that customers bring to our attention. And that centers on reliability, billing, technology, construction challenges,” says Moore. “So, when a customer calls or emails us about any one of these matters, we try to solve that issue straightforward, but then we gather as a team to talk about how to solve this issue from a long-term standpoint. We shift our mindset that if one customer is experiencing a challenge, it’s more than likely that other customers are also experiencing that same challenge.”
As a result of the team’s input and sharing of customer concerns, they are able to help influence and shape programs and guide customer to new solutions. It’s how they were able to launch the utility’s EVsmart program in 2023, to educate business customers and help them understand the potential of fleet electrification. Additionally, the team’s proactive approach to helping customers is also how the utility’s “Empower Maryland” program resulted in $454 million in commercial rebates since 2009.
BG&E encourages continuous business customer engagement beyond programs through a multitude of ways, including:
- Monthly newsletters
- Customer visits and executive team member visits
- Quarterly webinars
- Event participation and sponsorships
- Quarterly meetings with the utility’s Smart Energy Council
“Outside of just addressing customer concerns, we’re always looking for ways to engage our customers from a proactive standpoint,” says Moore. “If we really want to influence customer satisfaction, it can’t just be through taking reliability and billing calls and solving problems. We have to engage our customers proactively. We have to be top of mind.”
A key element of improving its business customer satisfaction, BG&E surveys its customers and reviews the findings for areas to improve upon. In the past seven years, BG&E has been in the 90th percentile for large commercial customer satisfaction. The utility just began surveying its SMB customers on a monthly basis and have thus received an 8.23 out of 10 in satisfaction for 2022.
“There’s opportunities to improve,” says Moore. “But the facts remain that the outreach that we’re providing and the face-to-face interactions are causing our customers to have strong trust for us, advocate for us when they’re asked to, and they appreciate all that we’re putting into making sure that we understand their business and creating that relationship.”
As BG&E continues to reflect on its business customer satisfaction initiatives and prepares for challenges ahead, such as nationwide energy policy changes, Moore explains that they’ll continue to review, become more analytical and make changes where necessary.
“In order to get over those challenges, we need to make sure that it’s fun to do this job, we have to reward our employees for the innovations and ideas that they’re bringing, as well as making sure that we keep the customer top of mind,” says Moore. “If we’re able to take care of all of these things, not only will we have strong customer relationships, but we’ll also be able to build advocacies and partners with our commercial customers that will help guide us forward in our success as we help them continue to receive the energy that they need.”
Boosting Business Customer Satisfaction with Digital Relationships
“Both Derek and Ammanuel discussed the importance of account management and continuous engagement with customers,” says Sharp. “A key element of this is to leverage digital engagement for relationship building.”
As Sharp began her discussion, she was keen to share the importance of focusing on proactive digital customer relationships, sharing that those utilities who don’t initiate a digital strategy risk a multitude of challenges, including:
- A utility’s only touchpoint with customers is monthly billing
- It’s harder to reach customers during times of crisis
- Utilities are unable to capture customer data
- Energy utilities receive lower satisfaction and customer loyalty
“It’s important to establish ongoing touchpoints to be seen as a trusted advisor, to help foster positive relationships and to educate customers,” says Sharp.
Once a digital strategy is in place, it’s important to develop a multichannel communications strategy to ensure your utility is reaching business customers where they are. To achieve business customer satisfaction, Sharp shared advice on honing an effective communications strategy, including:
- Keep open and transparent communications
- Understand business customer needs
- Provide economic development opportunities
- Be an electrification resource
- Support small businesses
- Ensure a customer-centric strategy
Sharp’s experience as a long-time marketing manager at Entergy provided insights and advice for utilities to develop segmented email campaigns that target individual customers’ interests and needs. For business customers in particular, it’s important to deliver messages and content that will resonate with them, such as energy efficiency rebates or incentives.
Proactive communications are a huge element to an effective strategy, especially in times of difficulty or uncertainty, such as storm communications. Even sending storm communications to business customers shows that your utility is keeping the customers top of mind. It helps build that relationship with them and reinforces that you are their trusted energy advisor.
“My main takeaway is that digital communications is a very cost-effective method for ongoing relationship-building with your customers,” says Sharp. “When you connect with your business customers where they are and with messages that they care about it results in improved customer satisfaction. And you do this through awareness, education and action.”
A Future of Improved Business Customer Satisfaction
Developing and maintaining business customer relationships is just as important and necessary as developing relationships with residential customers. Our speakers shared innovative and tactful strategies other utilities can use to reach their own satisfaction goals. By adopting these strategies, utilities can not only meet customer expectations but also build long-lasting relationships with their business customers.