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.

HomeServe App Central Source for Tracking Everything in the Home

HomeServe’s new App is completely free and enables customers to inventory every device and appliance in the home via bar code scanning, allowing instant access to manuals and warranty information, tune-up reminders, parts lists, recall notifications and more. In addition to allowing consumers to maintain their home equipment with ease, the App can also serve as a central source for your customers to maintain emergency numbers, request repairs and receive important utility notifications and messaging on energy efficiency, safety and more.

For more information click here.

Utility Regulators Face a New Reality

With the energy industry in the midst of an evolution, utilities are more clearly understanding the need for transformation from a role of commodity supplier to “ratepayers” to a trusted advisor on a range of energy issues to a more and more sophisticated and demanding population of energy consumers. Utility regulators must also adapt to keep up with these new developments.

Glen Thomas discusses the new reality for utility regulators.
Glen Thomas, President of GT Power Group

So what needs to change on the side of the regulators of utilities? Public utility commissions are now contending with a range of new realities and challenges from renewables becoming more affordable to a growing need for electric vehicle charging infrastructure and utility business model reforms. We sat down with Glen Thomas, President of GT Power Group and former Chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, to discuss his perspective as a regulator on the changes throughout the industry.

How has the retail energy landscape changed over the past ten years?

Utilities are slowly waking up to the fact that consumers have options and those options increasingly include not getting their service from their utilities. Phone utilities learned this lesson the hard way and energy utilities are increasingly trying to avoid similar mistakes. Technology does not stop advancing and consumers are always in the driver’s seat. For example, as Millennials are making up a greater percentage of the utility customer base each year, utilities are increasingly looking to enhance features that are of importance to this group such as digital experiences and environment-friendly products and services. Utilities have to recognize these realities and adapt. Fortunately, many utilities are – albeit at their own pace.

How can utilities solidify their customer relationships in the face of changes such as deregulation and competition from a number of non-traditional players?

The utility brand needs to be a trusted brand. That starts with strong customer relations. Having customers associate the utility name with good things such as reliability, friendly employees, a community presence, easy-to-understand bills, value-added services and helpful communications to assist consumers in their daily lives. Utilities are taking more customer-centric approaches that create value for the consumer and make the experience more personalized. Customers should not be taken for granted, but rather cherished and treated with respect. Customers who feel like their utility cares for them will be unlikely to seek other options. It really is fairly straight forward in concept, but challenging in execution – especially for utilities that are not used to thinking that way.

Do regulators recognize that the utilities they regulate need to change in the face of changing consumer expectations?

Fortunately, yes. There are many examples that come to mind such as Ohio’s Power Forward Initiative or New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision in which regulators are taking a couple of steps back from the day-to-day decisions that they make to ask the broad questions about where things are going and how best to get there. The traditional utility model was a fairly linear one – convince regulators that expenditures are prudent and acquire a rate of return on rate base. Now, regulators need to be convinced that this utility reinvention movement is real and necessary and may require non-traditional thinking and approvals from regulators. Regulators may need to go beyond their traditional comfort zones in order to find the best solutions for their regulated utilities and the customers they serve. The NARUC Summer Meeting in Indianapolis this week is exploring many of these issues showing that regulators are open to the conversation even if they may find challenges in the implementation.

Can regulators and utilities be effective partners in this quest to redefine the role of the utility? I do not think either regulators or utilities have much of a choice. In my mind, they have to be partners. Regulators are rightly concerned about the financial viability of the utilities they regulate and inherently understand that if the utility loses its customers to other options, the pool of resources available to pay for the utility’s infrastructure shrinks. The shrinking customer base puts greater burdens on those who remain on the system and more likely than not will increase the proportionate share of those with the least ability to pay. Regulators want to avoid this utility “death spiral” just as much as the utilities do. So, regulators have every incentive to be that willing partner to help the utility meet the needs of its modern consumer.

So what does that mean to regulators?

It means stepping outside of your comfort zone and being open to new ideas. It means looking at non-traditional approaches to improving the relationship between the customer and the utility not with an auditor’s skepticism but with a visionary’s creativity. The advance of technology and the evolving nature of consumer expectations should be viewed as an opportunity, not an obstacle. Generations of ratepayers have invested in utility infrastructure that can be embraced as the foundation for further improvements. It’s incumbent upon both the regulator and the regulated to guide that investment to a place where it can continue to provide value for consumers.

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.

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.