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By and large, players in the utilities, insurance and telecommunications industries aren’t seen as attractive and growing. They are in markets that are regulated, quite often saturated and their products are commoditized. These are the companies that provide our “must haves” in life, without which we cannot do, such as electricity, water, insurances, phone or internet subscriptions. We don’t look forward to our purchase experience when buying their products, we are not particularly thrilled when we have to contact their customer service reps to resolves our issues. Our interaction with them is more a necessity than choice.

Even investors view these companies as safe investments due to their stable and rather predictable business cycles and very modest earnings growth. With their dominant position, saturated market and long term service contracts, they are in a situation where operational efficiency is the key to trimming costs and squeezing more profit out of each “connection” or “unit”. In such a setup customer experience can be the driver to spur growth for these companies.

In the current age of internet, information transparency and access, it is fairly easy for consumers to compare products and prices of any company from the comfort of their couch. This leaves service as the primary differentiator. Moreover, new technologies and new entrants have lowered the switching barriers, making it easier for consumers to change to a new service provider.

Without a doubt, all companies in this sector have dedicated customer service departments to resolve customer issues, but in their current form they exist as a reactive or sometimes a preventative body to customer’s complaints. If the insurance provider answers a customer query efficiently, is that experience sufficient for us to recommend them to our colleague, convincing her/him to switch from their provider to ours? Doubtful. Because we expect such a response from the provider in the first place, so there is nothing that surprises when this happens.

Customers have become accustomed to a certain level of service from other industries (e-commerce, hospitality) but sectors such as utilities or telecoms haven’t been able to keep up. For decades, customers have been satisfied just with stable power delivery or no power or internet outages, but now they demand better and more targeted services to suit their needs such as smart thermostats or connected devices or meters in their homes. Numerous research done across industries shows that improving the customer experience can do far more to drive profitable growth than raising advertising spending or lowering prices.

To begin with, the utilities, insurance and telecommunications companies can do the following 3 activities to enhance their customer experience:

1.     Act as one company

For internal purposes, an insurance company has several departments and administrative processes that need to rely on each other’s for delivering service; however, for a consumer it is one company. Consumers don’t see the web of organizational structure and processes that operate behind the scenes to deliver the experiences. Hence, when understanding a customer’s journey, companies should avoid looking at it as individual functions that affect the experience, but rather as one company and one experience. In one instance, it was identified that customers had 13 separate interactions in their journey with the same company, often receiving conflicting information between steps. Rethinking the entire journey, using pilots to test ideas and measuring results enabled the design of a simple and seamless service delivery.

2.     Differentiate rather than prevent

Preventative customer experience is about identifying and solving the cause of a negative experience. This is certainly necessary to be able to deliver consistent and error free service, however, for generating loyalty among customers, differentiation is vital. Offering something unique or adapting the product/ service to each segment’s need creates a bond with the company. On top of doing things error free, doing something unique and tailored is a great start.

3.     Turn every employee into an company ambassador

Providing excellent and consistent service is not the sole domain of customer facing employees. Each employee of any company should be able to answer a range of customer questions or guide the customers to the right representative. All this has to be done in a professional and a friendly manner. A regional energy provider recently trained their entire staff of 800 in customer experience and service delivery, even the Grid engineer, whose only contact is with high powered generators and electrical circuits !

Creating a unique customer experience is a better way to achieve sustainable growth especially in industries that are stagnating. Turning a dissatisfied, a just satisfied or an indifferent customer into a vocal advocate will generate more opportunities for growth in the long term than most of other measures.

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Abhishek Jakate Consultant at Lausanne Hospitality Consulting SA

Abhishek joined LHC in June 2014. His role involves working in management consulting and supporting the executive education and development of learning centers.

Prior to joining LHC, Abhishek worked in Saas-Fee, Switzerland as a Financial Controller for a private hotel company, where he was responsible for the financials and assisted the general manager in operations. He was part of the team that took the company through the restructuring period after the addition of two new hotels with different ownership structures. In South Africa, he gained experience in operational restructuring at a luxury boutique property re-opened after extensive renovations.

An alumnus of the Ecole Hoteliére Lausanne graduating in 2012, Abhishek speaks English, German, Marathi and Hindi and is currently working on improving his skills in French.

While not at work, you will find Abhishek catching up on reading, enjoying good food and wine and working out in the gym.