Consumers Energy presented for UAI’s July Customer Analytics Community Conversation on creating a process of continuous improvement for retail products and services.
Consumers Energy recently lead the July Customer Analytics Community Conversation, which featured a presentation by Francisco Gonzalez and Poonam Yadav titled, “Consumers Energy’s Entire Customer Journey.” Gonzalez, director of utility service and experience design, covered the first 30 minutes with a PowerPoint presentation while Yadav, senior manager of insights and research, provided color commentary and fielded audience questions. The remainder of the hour was dedicated to more audience Q&A.
The presentation showed how Consumers Energy increased its customer experience index scores across multiple categories from 2018 to 2021. It primarily focused on the public utility’s quest to achieve a systematic approach to continuous improvement in the retail space. Continuous improvement was identified as the key to its customer experience strategy because of customer feedback that Consumers Energy was not consistently meeting their rising expectations.
Consumer was also interested in a systematic approach to continuous improvement because of market forces that are influencing the need to rethink the public utility’s long-term customer strategy.
Those market forces included:
- Load decline from energy efficiency and distributed generation
- Regulatory scrutiny on capital budget and return on equity (ROE)
- Increasing customer energy options from nontraditional competitors
- Capability gaps created by underinvesting in digital/analytics
The market forces influenced the business in various ways. They created downward pressure in the form of:
- Capital backlog in the medium term (3-6 years)
- Potential earnings downside in regulated business
- Risk of irrelevance to customers
- Limited retail capabilities to “pivot” and capture new earnings sources
To address the pressure of these market forces, Consumer’s energy sought to re-define their long-term customer experience strategy through a process for continuous improvement.
Process for Continuous Improvement
Consumer Energy really started to look at using data and analytics to create a better customer experience in 2018. After a week-long trip to Harvard University to learn about customer experience and design, the Consumers Energy team became obsessed with customer experience and making it the best it could be. To achieve excellence in their retail offerings, they decided to adopt a method of continuous improvement.
The team wanted to implement a systematic approach to continuous improvement. They started by creating an intake process, then conducted data gathering and discovery work, which was followed by using a journey map of current experiences (to understand the challenges of the current experience and the pain points); another goal was to build aspirational states. These steps helped the team develop a process to ideate, test and prototype concepts. This process would eventually create a “minimal viable product” that the team would take to their IT counterpart or other people in the organization who had the resources to push customer-focused projects forward.
Cross-functional teamwork across the enterprise was critical to prioritizing customer projects. These cross-functional teams became the internal champions of customer projects for new products and services.
Teaching and learning was also paramount to prioritizing customer projects. A Customer Experience Design tool kit was created to help educate the entire organization about customer experience and engagement. “We went from five of us talking about our customer experience, what is customer experience, to 7,500 of us wanting to engage with customers,” said Gonzalez.
Digital Channels & Products
Making incremental improvements in all digital channels is critical to meeting customer expectations. Interactive Voice Recognition, website and email are the main focus of these efforts, but Consumers is also considering new digital channels. In the next 30 days they will pilot a live chat feature for medium/small business customers in response to more customers asking for a digital app. Consumers Energy also has started offering new products such as forecasted energy consumption, energy efficiency programs and a Demand Response pilot program.
Customer Experience Index Success
Consumers customers’ experience improved because of the new strategy. In 2019, the customer experience index score for Bill & Payment was 78 but in 2021 it increased to 83. Field work (adhering to the Service on Time Commitment’s appointment window and first-trip resolution) went from 59 in 2018 to 80 in 2021. Storm Outage (improved customer communications-outage notifications, proactive actions, improved estimated time of restoration (ETR) went from 49 in 2019 to 70 in 2020.
Overall, Consumer Energy’s new approach to customer experience through continuous improvement has been successful. The utility’s plan to use this strategy to remain relevant to customers and capture new earnings sources is moving forward. Consumers Energy provides natural gas and electricity to 6.7 million of Michigan’s 10 million residents.
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