Last updated: November 1, 2021 Customer self service + utilities: Definition, benefits, pitfalls

Customer self service + utilities: Definition, benefits, pitfalls


Having a dedicated page on a website or a portal where customers can sign in and execute certain tasks has become standard for utilities. Today, utilities must move beyond standard customer self service in order to truly meet customer needs.

Self-service has become so standard for utilities that it’s considered practically moribund in the industry. It’s time to bring it to life with innovation that offers more valuable interactions that put customers first.

What is customer self service?

Customer self-service is proactive, modern service for the 67% of customers who prefer to find solutions on their own, rather than contacting a company for assistance.

By allowing customers the ability to answer questions and solve support issues independently – rather than needing to schedule a time or wait for a rep – it makes life easier on both consumers and customer service professionals.

Customer self service offers a plethora of solutions: 

  1. The ability to find answers to common questions
  2. Directing customers to online tutorials or instruction manuals
  3. Support content for a host of different customer needs
  4. Provides quick and easy service solutions for consumers
  5. Reduces work load of customer service reps, who can dedicate their time to more complex cases

The problem with customer self-service for utilities

Most customer self-service sites focus on the utilities and their processes. They capture meter readings and save money by allowing customers to download invoices and find information on their own and instead of calling the utility.

These customer self-service sites are functional and serve a purpose, but mainly benefit the utilities themselves. Customers won’t have much reason to visit the site, unless they have a special need to download an invoice.

It’s not a secret that customer behavior, in both B2C and B2B environments, has changed in the last decade. Everyone expects easy-to-use software when interacting with businesses. We all have packed days and are mindful of how we spend our time.

Be honest: How much time do you set aside for your utilities? I don’t invest any time with my provider. Moreover, when I try to login into customer self-service, I never know the username or the password. So, why bother going there?

Next-gen utility customer self-service

A handful of innovative utilities, mainly in the B2C retail space, have set up what I refer to as “self-service+.” They combine standard self-service functions with new features that actually motivate customers to be on the site more often. They’ve boosted their customer self-service offerings, converting them in part to engagement portals.

Some utilities have incorporated gamification by offering customers a bonus every time they log into self-service. The bonus could be news, advice, a fun fact, or points they can redeem for prizes.

For example, Mercury in New Zealand gives customers the chance to earn loyalty points that can be converted into cash and other rewards. Customers can choose certain targets, like walking a certain number of steps within a set timeframe, to earn points.

A utility in the UK introduced a “spin the wheel of fortune” mechanism to encourage timely monthly meter readings from customers. The feature, which gives customers the chance to win prizes such as free electricity or merchandise, was so successful that customers inquired about spinning the wheel more often.

Make it mobile, effortless, and secure

Self-service+ achieves many goals, whether that’s:

1. selling more

2. building customer loyalty

3. reducing churn

Utilities need to create more valuable ways to interact with their customers, not only to increase margins and revenue, but to stay relevant in a competitive market.

Price comparison webpages like Verivox or Check24 have become go-to places for finding suppliers. But those sites are driven purely by low prices, razor-thin margins, and switch bonuses. A utility that can structure their self-service portal to actually serve customer needs, not just their own, will stand out and be valued by customers.

Pressed for time, customers won’t be inclined to carve out a piece for their utility, especially if there’s no added value. This value needs to be available whenever and however customers need it; this means mobile access.

Personally, I won’t turn on my computer in the evening, but I keep my smartphone with me.

Whatever’s offered needs to be fast, secure, and entertaining. And it begins with the login. I can’t remember my utility self-service credentials, but I do know my Google login. So please let me link my social login, so that it’s hassle free.

It’s not easy to steer a whole company into the customer-first mindset, but direct customer touch points like self-service provide the most effective and noticeable change.

Customer self-service the way we know it now needs to die so that it can rise from the ashes even stronger!

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Florian Fromberg

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