20. September 2022 By Laura Schöning and Dominique Kompch
Self-service portals for the energy sector
What are self-service portals?
>> Self-service is not a new phenomenon <<
The concept of self-service has been around since early 20th century. It was first used in the retail sector after which it gradually became the standard in many industries.
The energy sector is in a constant state of cultural change. Increased competition, higher customer churn rates, transregional supplies and ever higher energy prices mean it is increasingly important for companies in the energy industry to focus on service.
Another driving force behind the cultural change is the digital transformation taking place throughout the energy market – from power generation to billing that also encompasses the megatrend of e-mobility.
There has been a change in how customers think.
They are accustomed to an all-encompassing customer experience they receive from online retailers along all touchpoints of their customer journey and across all channels. Global companies such as Google and Amazon have also helped to create this expectation. As a result, digital customers have now come to expect a similar experience from their energy suppliers.
If this expectation is not met, a company could lose a customer over the long term or fail to acquire customers at all. High-quality customer service available both day or night has also become a key competitive factor in the energy industry, and companies are forced to meet the increasingly demanding and complex requirements of customers in order not to lose them to rivals.
The pressure to optimise and reduce costs is also growing at more or less the same rate that the price of electricity and gas is rising. Customer self-service has the potential to unleash cost savings here as well. Self-service solutions can help energy suppliers achieve a healthy balance between cost efficiency and customer service.
81% of customers prefer to solve their problems themselves instead of contacting customer service.
Quelle: Harvard Business Review
Self-service portals for seamless, end-to-end customer support
The two things that service departments in the energy sector want to know most are how can they make communication with the customer even more efficient and what is the best way to offer additional new services. The rollout of a customer self-service portal can be one key step in this direction. A customer self-service portal can be defined in many different ways. We define it as a place of interaction and inspiration for a selected target group that is generally self-contained. The focus of activity is often on expanding or maintaining a business relationship. In this way, companies can build long-term customer loyalty throughout the customer journey and attract new customers through positive experiences.
Added value from self-service portals
Self-service portals deliver significant added value for customers as well as the service provider:
- Cost savings
Particularly in view of the ever higher energy prices, people are looking elsewhere for ways to save. In a self-service portal, users can carry out many processes on their own, allowing the current team to focus on other work instead – such as acquiring new customers. Likewise, the use of a chatbot makes it possible to respond to a majority of incoming tickets automatically or redirect them to the appropriate recipient, which also reduces the support team’s workload and provides users with rapid assistance.
Users can view their contracts, current rates, costs and so forth or make changes, conclude new contracts and carry out other actions themselves at any time. This can even be done outside of business days or when the hotline is not open.
- In addition, they can also access the full range of information offered by the service provider at any time.
Users can obtain a clear overview of contracts, enquiries as well as the progress or current status of their transactions in a self-service portal in just a few clicks.
- Customer experience
Users also expect the best possible customer experience from their energy provider, just like they most likely already do from online retailers.
>> Automate and reap the rewards <<
Possible features for companies in the energy sector
Like every industry, the energy sector is unique. Most self-service portals provide features to meet similar user requirements. Especially in the case of direct customer communication between municipal utilities and consumers, for example, features like the ability to view energy consumption, enter meter readings or open a contract overview are, to a certain extent, standard. First off, having these handy services available round the clock is convenient and useful for every user. Despite this, they are now seen by customers as hygiene factors and in very few cases do they help set a company apart from its competitors. Here is a list of some of the features that can both help raise service to a next level and have the potential to distinguish a company from its rivals:
- Personalised household analyses to provide information on how to conserve energy
- Integration of other stakeholders such as installation technicians
- Personal online consultations
- Connection of other municipal portals in order to synchronise contract and customer data
- Device management
What are the basic challenges when it comes to a self-service portal?
Offering services via a self-service portal is impersonal and requires very little human interaction. But is this really that important when it comes to choosing an energy service provider? Many customers use comparison portals to find the cheapest provider and attach little importance to personal communication.
Having the right user experience and a top-quality user interface plays an important role when it comes to a self-service portal. One unintended consequence of a poorly designed portal that is not intuitive to use is that it may overwhelm users. A content management system (CMS) can be just the right tool to provide customers with the perfect portal.
Self-service portals require a stable, fail-proof underlying architecture, because all stakeholders expect round-the-clock access to the portal. Corresponding requirements should be considered as early as the planning phase.
- Quality of master data
Providing master data in an appropriate level of quality is a key requirement for efficient business processes within and between companies. That is because the master data must be accurate and complete in order to ensure that every company in the supply chain can use the data correctly.
Content management systems as a central content hub
The standardisation of content, assets and data is also relevant for energy suppliers if they want to create a customer experience that is as unique as the individual use case. The bundling of many different data sources in the user interface of the self-service portal is essential to creating personalised experiences across all brands, markets and touchpoints.
Furthermore, energy suppliers attach great importance on having a future-proof architecture for the digital experience. In particular, the interaction between the integrated technology components is a basic requirement for this. The success of a platform like this is measured by way of the following factors: time to market, usability, the quality of the product itself and ultimately the customer experience.
In order to offer users optimised experiences both in the self-service portal and at all other touchpoints along the customer journey, a number of energy suppliers use content management systems as the technological underpinnings for self-service portals. Which CMS is the right one for a specific energy supplier and its self-service portal is as individual as the demands placed on it. Identifying functional and technical requirements as well as the financial demands provides an excellent foundation for subsequently evaluating the prioritised CMS requirements on the basis of a criteria catalogue. The decision on which CMS to use can be made on the basis of a points system and, if applicable, the experience of CMS experts.
>> Show customers how much you value them by delivering a better self-service experience <<
In a nutshell, customers would rather have a provider that meets all of their needs rather than one that only supplies the basic service. Seamless, end-to-end support is what they want most.
Many customers change their provider every year for one reason alone: to save money. Comparison portals make the search for the lowest-cost provider much easier. From our perspective, the customer experience is one of the few entry points to increase customer loyalty and therefore gain a small edge over your competitors. A standard, out-of-the-box solution, however, offers limited options here. By connecting a content management system, you get a tool that allows you to take the customer experience to the next level.
Personalisation, gamification and interactive content can all help increase customer satisfaction at this point and even turn customers into fans.
>> Turning customers into fans <<
Would you like to learn more about other exciting topics from the world of adesso? Then check out our latest blog posts.