Is Your Customer Care and Billing System a Drag on Your Utility Company’s Evolution?


We all know it. We are living in an age of increasing consumer expectations. Whether we are buying shoes, books or electricity, we want the same customer experience we are used to getting from our favorite retailers: convenient, intuitive and mobile. We have little tolerance for traditional phone-answering, bill-stuffing contact centers and limited-functionality web portals. Even when it comes to paying for something as basic as utilities, we want the same sophistication we get from Amazon.

Meanwhile, many electric and gas companies, still evolving from a “rate payer” mindset to a “customer” mindset, must pivot to a consumer model where choice and service expectations rule the relationship. For some utilities, creating a consumer-oriented retail model is tricky. Companies that used to have a natural monopoly in delivering heat and power now face new alternatives, including distributed generation, renewable technologies and energy storage products and services. This is happening at the same time that consumer channel engagement models are going digital.Traditional utility companies, for the first time, must seriously consider their approach to customer service or risk losing demand for their product—and customer loyalty and trust.

This means they need a fully integrated customer experience that includes seamless workflows across smartphones, the Internet and social media. It means they need built-in analytics that tailor content and service suggestions based on customer preferences, demographics and patterns of behaviors. With these in place, we can foresee a future in which utilities can even offer value-added services and enhance revenue.

But the Customer Information System (CIS) players that utilities depend on are not keeping up. Just like the Enterprise Resource Planning software providers that were unable to keep pace with new-age HR startups like Workday, Ultimate, SuccessFactors and Cornerstone, CIS players are struggling to rethink customer relationship management in a way that matches today’s consumer expectations.

What does this mean for utilities facing CIS replacement decisions? The short answer is simple: abandon the “one-throat-to-choke” concept. Though you might end up with a single software package and a single systems integrator that can meet all your requirements, allow for that as a possible conclusion to your selection process, not as a presumed outcome of your acquisition strategy.

Here are a few tips to consider when selecting a new CIS provider:

  • Unbind yourself from traditional methods and approaches. While your subject matter experts may be important voices in support of company-specific rules and constraints, those same people are often less informed about industry trends and changing consumer behaviors. Look outside your organization and industry to see what new ideas are working to build healthy customer relationships.
  • Abandon overly rigid request for proposal (RFP) approaches. The technology and requirements for new business models are changing fast. Restructuring your sourcing process to allow for collaboration with potential providers will create learning opportunities that benefit the selection process and the solution. Don’t limit yourself by prescribing what solution you think is best.
  • Establish a flexible and agile integration platform. If it’s not already in place, select an approach to build a service-oriented architecture (SOA) that is software agnostic. Once you have selected your preferred provider, make certain they are informed of your SOA strategy and can articulate how they will leverage it. The best solution today will result in ongoing evolution and continuous improvement. An SOA approach will make plug-and-play possible and practical.
  • Be open to a modified best-of-breed approach. Creating an unmanageable tangle of multiple implementers and software providers is as bad an idea today as it was ten years ago. But smart use of two or three software packages with two or three highly capable service providers that better meet your requirements can yield a superior result. Be skeptical of one provider claiming it is an expert in all areas and can do everything you need.
  • Plan for and implement governance and change management. If you accept the possibility that the best solution for your customers might be from more than a single source, you must carefully think through your approach and set up structures to cultivate good multi-provider management. Allowing providers to add standard offerings as afterthoughts will not win over your customers in the long-term.

Customer loyalty in the utilities industry does not happen by itself. And current solutions may be falling behind the curve. ISG helps companies navigate the changing CIS sourcing market.

Fresh from attending the Edison Electric Institute’s 2016 Annual Convention in Chicago, I’m eager to hear from you to discuss further. Contact me directly.

About the author

Director. Bob is a technology centered solution development and operations leader with deep experience in business process outsourcing, shared services, managed services, vendor management, technology outsourcing, integration, cloud computing and SaaS. For client engagements, Bob is responsible for the quality of client deliverables, client satisfaction, project status management and reporting, recommendation and implementation approach development, implementation management, and governance matters.