Next week, the spotlight will shine on small businesses across the country with the kickoff of National Small Business Week. This week recognizes the critical contributions of America’s entrepreneurs and small business owners, while also highlights the key components that make small businesses so beloved: emphasis on customer service, devotion to community and over delivering a quality product.
Which is why it makes perfect sense to spend National Small Business Week focused on the utility industry. Hear us out.
The latest JD Power customer satisfaction study shows overall satisfaction with residential electric is growing at a slower rate when looking at comparable service industries, trailing significantly behind television and Internet providers. It’s because of stats like this that utilities are doing everything they can to start acting like a small business, gravitating toward new ways to communicate directly with customers and make them feel important.
More than 50 percent of consumers say they now want to communicate with their utility through social media to ask questions and express opinions. So utilities have responded, with 49 of the 50 largest American utilities now with an active Twitter account, all of them with a Facebook account and 15 with mobile apps. Utilities are giving customers new and more direct channels to interact with them, to voice their concerns, flag outages and get real-time updates.
Utilities are taking a more active role in the community as well. Milton Hydro is nearing the one-year anniversary of its launch of the Milton Community Energy Challenge, a social benchmarking program that demonstrates how a community engagement program can deliver behavior-based energy conservation. Customers earn rewards for reducing their household energy use, and their energy consumption helps local schools win cash prizes by joining a school challenge team.
But most importantly, utilities are beginning to act like more than a commodity, delivering new and personalized content to make each customer feel empowered. Energy-saving tips, gamification, easy-to-understand energy bills, charts and content to help explain individual energy consumption, and special offers and rebates on energy-efficient appliances. Utilities are working to become a one-stop shop for customer energy and to build a personal relationship with the end user.
It’s a stretch to think that customers will ever think of their utility as a small business but many utilities are taking steps to create better relationships with their customers. And that’s no small thing.