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Digital engagement in the energy sector

The opportunity to attract, but more critically, to retain customers through digital engagement, is one that is already deeply explored (and exploited) by many retail sectors. The energy sector is only in its first foray of doing similar, partly because of the relative invisibility and in truth, lack of consumer appeal to date.

For any discussion about digital, it’s important in the first instance to define our terms:

1) digital engagement as a marketing tool and /or
2) digital engagement through smart devices, facilitating a 2-way interaction between supplier and retailer, retailer and customer.

For the purposes of this discussion we are referencing both and we will explore each in more depth in future papers.

The opportunity to attract, but more critically, to retain customers through digital engagement, is one that is already deeply explored (and exploited) by many retail sectors. The energy sector is only in its first foray of doing similar, partly because of the relative invisibility and in truth, lack of consumer appeal to date.

As important to convey here is that digital engagement and transformation are terms that can be somewhat over-used and already there are a litany of examples where businesses have embarked on such strategies in name only, only to fall at early stages due to a lack of strategic and organisational commitment to engage (Harvard Business Review).

But the opportunity to engage through digital delivery within the energy sector, as more is understood about consumption, more weight is put against personal sustainability agendas and price becomes a more apparent issue, is increasingly there. For those prepared to invest the appropriate time and effort in a strategy that will go through several evolutions before being fully realised, patience will nevertheless be a pre-requisite.

Our supposition is that while the Smart Meter roll-out is mandated, it does represent the beginning of a digitally enabled consumer engagement strategy. Data from Smart Energy GB, underlining the growing propensity for visibility and control from those that already have smart meters installed and the growing appetite of customers to have them installed, supports this (Smart Energy GB, 2019). The way we think about building our products and services is informed by this belief (and we believe, should be by everybody). Socioeconomic drivers and technology innovation are transforming utilities and energy retailers into digital enterprises and globally, the four “megatrends” of digitalisation, decarbonisation, decentralisation and democratisation will continue to create both challenges and opportunities in the sector (Gartner, 2019).

The possibility of delivering real time analysis, providing more and more control in the home and ultimately, complete automation of household consumption, presents huge opportunities for customer engagement.

What is also clear is that trust is a significant barrier to overcome for every energy supplier and retailer, though the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer at least indicates that trust in the energy sector specifically, has been improving over the last five years, albeit an improvement to neutrality from distrust. Questions around security of personal data will only become greater as interaction capability is increased, so there needs to be a general level of acceptance that customers can not suddenly be presented with a raft of propositions. They need to be introduced gently and gradually over time – perhaps frustrating to those that understand what technology can do, but a practical reality of introducing engagement propositions in this sector.

In all of this, we need to understand that digital is only one channel for engagement and it’s the experience that we offer that will be (one of) the key(s) to success. And getting the basics right will more likely provide retailers with those elusive points of predisposition than any “shiny” development.

Whatever the product, whatever the service, whatever level of insight it is built upon, it needs to be relevant, built on preference and propensity and it needs to be just enough (with the specific point that at current levels of acceptance, too much will simply turn customers off).

This means going far deeper with customer insight and certainly discarding any notion (fast disappearing anyway) of one size fits all.

geo partners with leading organisations in app development and insight generation/ CRM. Their views corroborate our own learnings, sighting the importance of building a picture of preferences over time, underlining the “just enough but not too much theme,” and making the most of early engagement opportunities pre and post-acquisition. All obvious and certainly nothing new, but amplified in a digital environment when preference will be gained and lost at a vastly accelerated rate. In our next paper, we will explore these themes in more depth.

About the authors

This white paper was written by geo, the UK’s leading smart energy technology company. If you would like to explore the topics discussed in this white paper in more detail, please contact the team on +44(0)1223 850 210 or by email at marketing@geotogether.com.

Download the full white paper here

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