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Game Changers - How to adapt to the Key disruptors of the status quo in the Retail Energy market?

Digital Revolution in the Energy & Utilities sector has always been viewed as a threat to their current business model. Bringing the digital revolution to the power industry has quite a few hurdles such as alternative energy sources, market regulations, and constant cost pressure. Many utilities see the digital revolution as a threat to their business model, but massive opportunities await those able to transform themselves ahead of the curve. But, today, it is time to re-think the strategy and understand the need to innovate faster to cope with the consumerization this industry is going through. 

What are the key trends driving this industry?

Demand Surge and Alternate Energy sources: Soaring demand in emerging markets and the quest for new energy sources have created ripples the complex network of stakeholders governing the energy sector. Industry revolution in the 19th century relied only on coal, but in today's economy, the abundant choices raise new dilemmas in pricing and choices of fuel. In the last 2 decades, there are more energy sources identified and added for fuel the demand of the domestic market - including solar, wind, nuclear and tidal energy. Though the traditional fossil fuels and hydroelectric renewable energy sources will still be part of the mix, the growing concerns on pollution, environment changes and cost reduction will make renewable energy more competitive and increase the demand.

The emergence of Retail Energy Providers: While regulatory constructs vary, utilities around the world are generally being disrupted by government policy, economics, changing customer habits and expectations, and of course, by technology. The latter in particular is upending business as usual by lowering competitive barriers to entry. Especially within the wider expanses of deregulated markets, many new entrants are using digitization and disruptive technologies to challenge established business models. As a result, a whole new breed of companies have emerged that more closely resembles an online consumer retailer rather than a traditional retail power provider

Ecosystem Convergence - In today's market, there are alternative energy sources, nationalized power grids, smart cities and other key programs that require ecosystem convergence. However, because there is no single ecosystem right now, platforms and configurations have yet to be standardized. Thus, offering integrated solutions to customers generally comes at a high cost.

What is the impact on the customer experience?

Until recently, the retail power sector had been relatively insulated from consumer pressure to innovate faster and had not been directly affected by exponential technology shifts. Thus, it is generally less mature in its innovation capabilities than industries that felt the brunt of these forces earlier, such as automotive, retail, financial services, and technology, media, and telecommunications. Though every organization is different, many retail power companies still think of innovation in terms of updated software and systems, meaning many are focused on improving administrative efficiency and enhancing the customer experience, often by adding mobility and other digital capabilities.

The following are the key expectation and innovation in the customer experience in the retail energy world
    • Human-centric design: Call center agents are constantly supporting customers who need help with their usage, new products, billing and other value-added services such as green energy and help required to save energy. The domestic market has become a key growth area where the supporting retail energy companies should have simplified human-centric applications which help the call center agents get a customer 360 along with the contextual and proactive insights of the customer's usage pattern.
    • Omnichannel engagement and commerce - The cornerstone of consumerization is self-service and omnichannel communication, customers today would want to communicate through a smart app, an intuitive website, social channels or all the above. The solution's design should not only be mobile-first but should be omnichannel supporting E2E commerce
    • Product management and Order Management - The retail energy product base has expanded over the last decade, which has given birth to the need for guided selling for cross / upselling services to the end customer

How can we leverage Smart Enterprise platforms like Vlocity to build comprehensive Cx solutions?

Vlocity provides a verticalized CRM solution on the Salesforce.com platform for Utility and Energy Retailer companies. I found the following key features from the platform very useful to build effective Cx solutions in this space.

    • Energy Console - Vlocity provides a human-centric console that provides a 360-degree view of the customer records and related insights and contextual information. This helps the customer support agent to get a complete history of the customer and also helps them to a guided process
    
    • Process Library - There are several enhancements in the Vlocity Energy Process Library with key processes such as Transfer service, management of Outages, management payment plan and Master Data Sync
    
    • Back-office Integration - As an architect, I feel this is one key area which we need to consider. Vlocity has a native integration blueprint for CIS Utility billing which is key to get the contextual information on the customer's usage and billing
    
    • Vlocity Assistant - This is yet another useful Cx enhancement which gives a good guided selling framework which is essential for Retail Energy providers to upsell/cross-sell products and services to the end customers.

Apart from these, there are quite a few functionalities of the platform such as customized data model, product catalog and a comprehensive contract management module tailored for this industry. 

Conclusion

It is estimated, by 2050, electric power, which would be generated primarily by low-carbon energy sources such as tidal, nuclear, wind and solar and may account for a quarter of global energy demand. A rapidly evolving retail power market is forcing companies to either disrupt or be disrupted to achieve the right customer experience. A holistic approach to customer experience would help Retail Energy providers to keep up with the consumer demands and cope with the disruptors that require a deliberate and systematic innovation to their Cx applications. This includes leveraging new platforms such as Vlocity Energy & Utilities, as well as digital enablers such as smart meters, blockchain, and Next Best action through AI platforms like Salesforce Einstein. By innovating across the enterprise with the help of new technologies,  companies can lessen the probabilities of being blindsided while improving the odds of finding new ways to improve the customer experience in both B2B and B2B space.

References and Further Reading:

Vlocity Energy & Utilities Product Release Updates, July 2019
https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/electric-power-and-natural-gas/our-insights/the-digital-utility-new-opportunities-and-challenges

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