Economic Shock Can Catch Consumers Unaware

Energy consumers want engagement and for utilities to provide solutions. As the industry goes through a rebranding period, many energy providers are looking to utilize their own expertise and resources to expand their offerings in synergistic ways.

Position Yourself as a Trusted Partner

Home energy analysis and energy efficient rebates programs are great ways to position your utility as a trusted partner, but they lack human touch and nothing makes them stand out from what every other energy provider offers. This is why utilities are turning to affinity partnerships to expand their service offerings.

You can differentiate yourself by offering education about electrical safety and energy efficiency – something of which 88 percent of homeowners approve – while simultaneously offering an optional emergency home repair plan to protect them from economic shock, or a large, unexpected expense.

Many Homeowners Are Unprepared

More than one-third of Americans have $500 or less in savings in the case of an economic shock, and that increases to 54 percent of those who have a total annual income of $50,000. A Charles Schwab study showed 60 percent of American live paycheck to paycheck, and The Pew Trust found 60 percent had an economic shock in the previous twelve months.

Economic shock threatens about one-third of Americans.

The Biannual State of the Home Survey, conducted by The Harris Poll, reports the financial impact of home repairs, the state of the American home and researches home ownership trends. In the fall edition, the survey found more than one-third of homeowners would prefer a deductible-free emergency home repair plan like HomeServe’s offerings. The number was double that of those homeowners who would prefer to pay a rider on their home insurance offering a deductible. In addition, 69 percent of homeowners would prefer their local utility to offer an optional emergency home repair plan from a third party.

Homeowners Are Worried About HVAC

In addition, the HomeServe Biannual State of the Home Fall 2019 survey shows 50 percent of homeowners had an economic shock within the past 12 months. HVAC systems accounted for the most needed repairs, about one-in-five, and nearly half of homeowners are worried about the state of their HVAC system. Many homeowners are shocked by the cost of HVAC repairs, despite the size and complexity of most systems and safety requirements.

One-in-four homeowners had an HVAC repair in the past year and nearly 50 percent are concerned about their systems.

In the past year, HomeServe has sought to address our customers’ concerns about HVAC breakdowns by purchase HVAC repair companies in Washington, D.C.; Cleveland, Ohio; and Grand Prairie, Texas. These hubs will enable us to better serve our – and our partners’ – HVAC customers.

Educating Customers is Key

Education about improving energy efficiency and safety is key, but HomeServe also offers education about service connection responsibilities. In a previous State of the Home survey, more than 40 percent of homeowners surveyed didn’t know they were responsible for maintaining their service connections.  A total of 18 percent were unsure who was responsible, while another 11 percent thought their homeowner’s insurance would cover the repair expense and 13 percent believed the utility was responsible.

Customers want utilities to offer optional emergency home repair plans.

If homeowners don’t know who is responsible for service connection maintenance, they will likely contact the utility if there is an issue. Then you will have the unenviable task of letting them know they are on the hook for thousands of dollars in an emergency home repair they may not be able to afford.

To learn how you can educate homeowners about their responsibilities and help them avoid economic shock, contact us.

Customer Service Line Experience Improved by Voice Analytics

When an energy consumer reaches out, they want to speak to someone who is friendly, knowledgeable and can help them navigate their problem. A good customer service line experience will soon overtake price and product as the key factor in customer choice.

When a customer needs assistance, they overwhelmingly turn to call centers – 73 to 79 percent of customers prefer to speak to someone about complex issues. Having a well-trained and well-coached customer agent team is critical, because nearly 40 percent of customers displeased with a call center interaction will advertise their dissatisfaction on social media.

Affinity Partnerships

An excellent customer service line experience can keep your customers coming back for exceptional service.

When you’re entering an affinity partnership, you don’t have control over your customer service line experience, but their satisfaction is integral to your business. A worthy partner will keep you appraised of their best practices, including voice analytics.  

HomeServe developed the “Ask, Listen and Act!” model after implementing CallMiner voice analytics. CallMiner analyzes speech and creates transcripts of calls, behaviors and customer responses. In addition, CallMiner measures silence, tone and volume, and categorizes findings based on verbiage. The program searches for key words, phrases and parameters to determine “category hits,” revolutionizing the QA process.

Customer Service Improvements

HomeServe has made many measurable improvements in the way its call center operates as a result of implementing this tool. 

  • A customer service line experience scorecard was created to automatically determine the quality of service delivered. Quality is measured based on length, silence, QA standards and attributes including empathy, tone, professionalism and attention to customer needs.
  • Silence in calls was reduced by pinpointing agents who need additional support or training to enhance the service they deliver. At an individual agent level silence in calls was reduced from 17 percent to 9 percent, and the 9 percent represents silence required during payment processing.
  • Supervisor productivity was improved by providing calls for coaching opportunities based on pre-determined, agreed-upon criteria. The recorded calls provide valuable information that enables supervisors to quickly address opportunities with specific examples. Coaching preparation time has been reduced, allowing for more one-on-one time and coaching, which supports exceptional customer interactions.
  • The program identifies areas of compliance to ensure the proper language is read during a call. Since January, 290,000 hours have been mined, revolutionizing the call monitoring process. The number of calls analyzed by Quality Assurance has increased from 12,000 manual reviews to 3.3 million topical attribute CallMiner reviews. Because of the automation of our customer experience monitoring processes, we have completed 2.3 million customer service scorecard reviews on agents across our Inbound and Repair Management teams.

Rant and Rave

To complement the insight provided by call analytics, HomeServe implemented an automated customer survey application, Rant and Rave, to deliver opt-in surveys to customers throughout their journey, through channels such as email, automated outbound contact and SMS text. This feedback is then run through a speech analytics engine, translated to text and analyzed. Analysis is performed automatically to help identify customer sentiment (positive or negative) and identifies opportunities for improvement. In the last 12 months, the application has provided over 98,000 actionable customer insights, as opposed to 4,000 prior to implementation.

The feedback is compiled in an interactive web-based dashboard and available in real time, enabling stakeholders to drill down to agent, technician, team and departmental level, providing true root cause and actionable insight into all areas of the business.

Voice analytics is a valuable tool, enabling a better understanding of agent performance and customer need. This technology a key driver in HomeServe’s ability to fulfill its commitment to delivering a best-in-class customer experience.

Utilities are looking for opportunities to connect more deeply with customers. HomeServe helps to improve customer engagement for our utility partners through the integration of complementary home repair programs with utility initiatives such as energy efficiency and safety, offering customers greater access and choice. Partnership allows the utility to leverage HomeServe’s marketing and communications expertise to educate their customers through a variety of channels. 

For more information, contact us.

Smart Home Devices Adoption Increases – HomeServe Research

Smart home devices are being used in more households than ever.

HomeServe’s Biannual State of the Home Survey examines the financial impact of home repairs and other factors related to the state of the American home. The most recent survey examined the adoption of smart home devices. The majority of respondents – 56 percent – reported having at least one smart home device. Voice-controlled assistants (e.g., Amazon Alexa, Google Home) topped the list at 35 percent, while 20 percent report using smart light bulbs. Video monitoring (e.g., Amazon Cloud Cam, Nest Cam, Ring, Arlo) came in at 17 percent and smart heating/cooling technology is used by 16 percent of homeowners. The findings make it clear that Americans are turning toward devices that can make life easier.

The survey also examined the adoption of mobile device apps to manage the home. Thirty-six percent of homeowners report using at least one mobile app, with apps that manage smart devices and appliances/electronics (e.g., Alexa, Sonos, Nest, Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings) topping the list at 27 percent. Nine percent reported using home repair apps (e.g., Centriq, WikiHow, DIY Tip Genius, BrightNest) and eight percent use a mobile app to track house cleaning schedules and chores (e.g., Tody, OurHome, HabitHub). The winter edition of the online survey was conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of HomeServe from Feb. 27-March 1, 2019, among 2,031 U.S. adults age 18 and older, including 1,429 who identified themselves as homeowners.

Ideas to Improve Customer Satisfaction at Contractor Conference

A group of the top contractors in HomeServe’s network of more than 1,600 across the country attended the fourth-annual Contractors Conference Sept. 18-20 in San Antonio, where they discussed continuous improvement of customer service, closing the labor gap and corporate social responsibility. Many ideas to improve customer satisfaction were presented over the course of the conference.

John Kitzie of HomeServe USA presents tips to improve customer satisfaction.

John Kitzie, North American CEO, opened the conference by reviewing the tremendous growth the company has experienced in the 16 years it has been operating in the U.S., noting that 163 municipal and utility partners signed on last year. The company now has more than 4 million customers holding 6.7 million policies and completed 650,000 jobs last year, or one every 43 seconds.

“Before long, I’ll be able to say that it’s every 30 seconds,” he said.

Mr. Kitzie thanked the contractors for providing excellent customer service, noting that they’ve maintained a 4.8 star out of 5 star rating. Their work is crucial to HomeServe’s ability to deliver an exceptional customer experience.

Bill Graham, Chief Marketing Officer, spoke about the HomeServe App, which was launched in April 2019, demonstrating that its functionality allows users to make a virtual portfolio of their homes. He also spoke about added features that soon will be available to both contractors and customers.

The App enables customers to inventory home appliances via bar code scanning, allowing instant access to manuals and warranty and tune-up reminders, and can also serve as a push platform for municipalities and utilities to communicate important messages and public service announcements.  To date the App has 19,000 downloads and over 16,000 active users.

Graham also spoke about enhancements to our suite of repair plans, based on customer and contractor feedback, including the new TotalHome Warranty plan. He noted that the TotalHome Warranty and the recent purchase of American Home Guardian, which operates in the realty market, will raise product visibility to Millennials, noting that 75 percent of new homes were purchased by those under 45.

Myles Meehan, Senior Vice President of Public Relations, spoke about the recently launched HomeServe Cares Foundation, outlining the four pillars: Caring for Community, Caring for People, Caring for Vets and Caring for Good. The foundation collected all the company’s corporate social responsibility programs under one banner and expanded the offerings to include a grant award program that helps municipalities and nonprofits fund projects that align with the company’s core values. Meehan also gave an overview of the volunteer opportunities of which employees are encouraged to take advantage.

Meehan highlighted the Caring for Vets program, which connects veterans transitioning out of the military or looking for a career change with contractors in need of skilled labor, and Caring for People, which provides pro bono repairs for homeowners who need emergency repairs impacting their safety, health or quality of life. He encouraged contractors to become involved with both programs.

Kelsey Todd, Contractor Operations, led a panel with former This Old House apprentice and current Ask This Old House cast member Nathan Gilbert and current This Old House Generation Next apprentice Kathryn Fulton to discuss the labor gap and why millennials should consider a career in the skilled trades.  Nathan and Kathryn offered ideas on how contractors can attract them by, for example, partnering with local schools to raise awareness of the trades as a career; seeking out veterans transitioning from the military through the VA; and using social media to showcase their expertise in the field. Implementing ideas to improve customer satisfaction should include the latest technologies.

Sylvester Criscone, Vice President of Contractor Relationships, spoke about using technology to improve communications between HomeServe and customers, customers and contractors and contractors and HomeServe. New technology soon will enhance these communications, optimizing scheduling and achieving faster service completion. Criscone noted key elements in customer service in the digital age allow for self-service, enabling up-to-the-minute service status updates and making sure pertinent information is available to customer-facing agents. He outlined how new technology would enhance these existing abilities for HomeServe.

“Service excellence isn’t a destination, it’s a journey,” Criscone said. “And it’s a journey we can only navigate with your dedication and assistance.”

A keynote speech by author and motivational speaker Vicki Hitzges, who discussed improving the customer experience, closed the conference.

Utilities are looking for opportunities to connect more deeply with customers. HomeServe helps to improve customer engagement for our utility partners through the integration of complementary home repair programs with utility initiatives such as energy efficiency and safety, offering customers greater access and choice. Partnership allows the utility to leverage HomeServe’s marketing and communications expertise to educate their customers through a variety of channels. For more information, contact us.

Help Your Customers Prepare During Emergency Preparedness Month

September is Emergency Preparedness Month and, in the event of a disaster, there are several things your customers should know about their electrical service in particular, and energy safety in general.

National Preparedness Month is a great time to plan for utility and home emergencies.

Many customers are unaware of how to prepare their homes for disasters or what to do in the aftermath. Those preparing may inadvertently cause even more problems without the appropriate guidance.

Charge It Up

Customers in the path of a storm should prepare themselves by charging any devices they use to communicate, including cell phones and computers. If they have an external charger for these devices, they, too, should be charged. Any electronic devices that may be in danger of being flooded should be moved to a safer part of the home.

If you advise customers to shut down power to their homes, instruct them to turn off each individual breaker, then the main breaker. You may want to include common sense reminders that customers should not touch the breaker box if their hands are wet or if it is surrounded by standing water.  

Gas and Water

Your customers should know where the gas and water shut-off valves are located and how to turn these off as well. Despite these being out of your purview, your customers will still appreciate the information. 

Some customers may purchase generators, especially if you’re in an area that experiences frequent hurricanes, tornados or debilitating snowstorms. Many of those making such a purchase will do the research for themselves, and understand it must be installed outside and away from windows or doors by a qualified electrician.

They may understand that a transfer switch should be installed and power to their home turned off at the breaker. However, they may not realize that these are safety mechanisms meant to protect your linesmen from the potential of backfeed and electrocution after the initial danger has passed and power is being restored.

Detector Maintenance

Communicate what they should do and why they should do it in order to impress upon them the importance of these safety measures. In addition, customers should be encouraged to purchase and install carbon monoxide detectors, with battery backups, of course. Not only is this a good practice in general, but a large proportion of CO deaths occur in homes where a generator is being used. Your customers may think having their generator in a secure, enclosed space like a garage is convenient, but it can also be deadly. Emergency Preparedness Month is the perfect time to perform these maintenance tasks.

Electrical Issues

Following a storm or flood – especially a flood – is when your customers face the most danger from electrical-related causes. The most obvious is from downed powerlines. Your customers likely know that they should stay away from downed lines, but may not realize that, if live, they can electrify the ground for up to 35 feet away – especially if it is saturated with water. In fact, your customers should avoid flooded areas altogether, not only because of the danger of drowning or infection from contaminated water, but because it could be electrified by a submerged power line.

They also may believe that their car’s rubber tires will protect them from electrical shock, and they may be surprised to find out they absolutely should not drive over downed wires.

Customers also should be aware that, if a line is touching something, or an object is lying on the line, they should not touch that object. Most customers know they should leave downed lines alone and call emergency services, that there is no safe way to approach or move a potentially live line, but some may not know the risk of being shocked from a distance or how even a small amount of water can be very conductive.

Portions of customers’ homes may flood during a disaster. Although they may be aware of the dangers of mold and the necessity of drying out their rooms and making repairs to water-damaged floors and walls, they may not think of the electrical system nestled within and out of sight. Remind customers their electrical system can’t be returned to service until it has been examined by a qualified electrician if it was exposed to water. Any devices that have gotten wet also should be examined.

Your customers want you to reach out to them. Studies have shown that regular communication improves customer satisfaction. Emergency Preparedness Month, Electrical Safety Month and the beginning of hurricane season in mid-August are good times to remind them about basic electrical safety.

Utilities are looking for opportunities to connect more deeply with customers. HomeServe helps to improve customer engagement for our utility partners through the integration of complementary home repair programs with utility initiatives such as energy efficiency and safety, offering customers greater access and choice. Partnership allows the utility to leverage HomeServe’s marketing and communications expertise to educate their customers through a variety of channels. For more information, contact us.

Your ACSI Score: Four Ways to Boost It

Investor-owned energy utilities have slid nearly three percentage points in the American Customer Satisfaction Index report for 2018-2019, primarily because of higher prices and outages caused by severe weather.  This is called the ASCI Score.

Natural gas providers have seen a higher score – 78 to electric’s 72 – possibly because gas transmission lines largely aren’t exposed to the vagaries of weather. This was after the industry overall saw a slight jump in the prior year’s report. IOUs saw hits around goodwill or support of the community and support of renewable energy programs, which didn’t meet customers’ expectations.

You already know the country’s aging infrastructure needs to be addressed, and many utilities already have plans in place to address it, but infrastructure isn’t quick or flashy. There are other things you can do to improve customer perception and loyalty, and by doing so, improve your ACSI score.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Your ASCI score could be affected by your community outreach efforts.

Corporate Social Responsibility is one of the places where the industry didn’t meet customer expectations, and that’s a shame, because positive customer perception in this area can show up on the balance sheet.

In a survey, 94 percent of consumers said they would switch to a company that supports a cause, and 20 percent would pay more to a company that does so. Among U.S. consumers, 52 percent factor whether a company’s values align with their own, 87 percent will make a purchase from a company that supported a cause important to them, and 65 percent research companies’ CSR programs to determine whether they are sincere or “greenwashing,” putting on the appearance of social responsibility without the accompanying cultural changes.

Socially conscious Millennials spend their money with companies whose values align with their own, and Millennials have been dubbed Green Champions, those concerned with environmentalism – another area where the industry didn’t meet customer expectations.

In short, being a good corporate citizen can not only improve customer loyalty (and your ASCI Score!), but encourage them to spend more with you.

Perceived Value and Quality

Perceived value and quality, along with customer expectations, are important benchmarks the ACSI takes into account when calculating and ASCI score.

While energy reliability is an important part of the services that you deliver to your customers, you can boost this rating by offering energy services, energy efficiency products and other offerings through affinity partnerships. Offering a range of products or services can improve perceptions of success and quality

It’s reported that customer experience will be the most important factor, above price and features, by 2020, meaning that your customer’s perception of their relationship with your utility and the quality of your service will be more important to them than cost. As noted above, customers will pay more for products and services if they can be linked to a cause that they care about.

A customer who perceives your service to be of superior quality or value, is likely to become a loyal customer. They will not only purchase your services over a comparable competitor’s, but recommend them to others. 

Customer Service

Seventy-nine percent of utilities believe themselves to be customer-centric, when only 7 percent of customers believe the same thin, according to research. As the energy industry evolves, customer service is becoming an area where utilities can differentiate themselves from the competition. Customer service also has an impact on your bottom line with JD Power finding that improved customer satisfaction means an increased return on equity for energy providers.

Improving the customer journey can improve satisfaction. We have entered the digital age, and customers want a multichannel experience, and you can use this to your benefit. Something as simple as a push notification when a service technician is on their way to a customer’s home can improve satisfaction. 

Customers want to speak to an empathetic agent at your call center, who understands their problem and provides a smooth transition between self-service to assisted service. Information can’t be siloed – your customers will be less frustrated when your agents have access to the big picture.

Partnership

Partnerships with third party providers are enabling utilities to offer value-added services and new products to help strengthen customer relationships, because a utility’s core business of delivering power and maintaining infrastructure requires vast resources.

Value-added services can fall under three main categories: energy services, such as surge protection, lighting, weatherproofing and electric vehicle storage; information services, such as home energy management systems, energy reports and real-time usage information; and home services, a developing market that includes home inspection, landscaping, emergency home repair plans and bundled services, such as home security systems.

According to research conducted by HomeServe, those customers who received an emergency home repair plan through their utility rated their provider higher than those who didn’t have policies. This is just one more offering that could lead to a better ASCI Score.

Utilities are looking for opportunities to connect more deeply with customers. HomeServe helps to improve customer engagement for our utility partners through the integration of complementary home repair programs with utility initiatives such as energy efficiency and safety, offering customers greater access and choice. Partnership allows the utility to leverage HomeServe’s marketing and communications expertise to educate their customers through a variety of channels. For more information, contact us.