Putting mobile at the heart of utility providers' marketing strategy

Topic: Utilities

Smartphone adoption in the UK has surged from 29% in 2011 to 78% in early 2018 (source) – and 94% of us have access to a mobile phone (source). Many businesses are taking advantage of this seismic change in consumer behaviour, and are switching from the noughties’ staples of post and email, to a mobile-first approach.

On average, people check their phones 150 times per day, and spend 177 minutes using them (Source: Device Atlas)

Running slightly behind the adoption curve is the utilities sector, where email and letters still form the basis of the communications strategy, particularly for the more established brands where the customer base is widely spread over different demographics.
We’re not under-estimating the challenge of finding the right channel for each customer, at scale, and in complete control of costs; this blog article simply aims to present the easiest to adopt, and measure, digital communication channels for utility providers. Many can be trialled without needing to radically alter your existing strategy, allowing you to present proof of concept before committing to mobile-first.

The top digital solutions that customers want utility providers to use


The most simple but effective way for utility providers to connect with their customers is through SMS. SMS is a basic, but extremely versatile channel that offers a 95% open rate, meaning your SMS message is almost guaranteed to be read. It doesn’t rely on an internet connection or smartphone, and is far superior to email for short, impactful messages that drive action.
SMS Reminders – Remind customers of their debts, renewal dates, and engineer appointments are just a few ways that SMS can be utilised for reminders. Utility providers can send an SMS when customers’ bills are almost ready to be calculated; it can request an up to date meter reading which can be supplied by simply replying to the text message.
SMS Chat – Using SMS for a chat service means customers can reply at their own pace without waiting on hold for long periods of time, or needing to stay online. With SMS Chat, utility providers can allow agents to manage multiple text conversations at once, rather than a single phone call. It can be used for complaints handling, appointment bookings, and even payment collections.
SMS Surveys – Sending a survey to customers after they sign up, speak to a support agent, at the end of their first year, or whenever they interact with you, can help you gain vital information that will help improve your business. Something as simple as ‘how was your experience with our call centre today?’ also shows you care, which, given that 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated (source), is very important.

Rich Messaging

RCS, as our example shows opposite, represents the next evolution of customer communications in the utility sector. It provides the power to send rich, visually engaging content to customers, while at the same time offering an array of new functionalities like predictive responses, rich cards and payment tools.
SMS Landing Pages provide the power to send rich content to mobile devices which don’t support RCS.
WhatsApp for Business behaves similarly to SMS Chat, in that it’s designed for conversations between individuals rather than bulk messaging. Still, it’s probable that the applications will be opened up over time, and it allows the utility provider to share images, video and audio content in addition to text.

Interactive Voice Response

For marketers concerned about customers without access to a mobile, or simply wishing to provide multiple communication options to customers, IVRs are an excellent and surprisingly under-utilised option.
IVRs minimise call waiting times for your customers and divert time-consuming and repetitive tasks away from agents. Because customers are provided with options from which to pick, they will either be directed to the correct person straight away, or the information they require can be given to them automatically without the need to speak to an agent.
It isn’t just your customers that will benefit from an IVR solution; your call agents will no longer be overwhelmed with calls from customers who require a quick answer. This can be provided to them either within the IVR solution or by being directed to your website or help centre for the information they require.

Mobile Debt Collection

Using current solutions to collect low-value debt are slow, expensive, and unlikely to achieve results. Paper reminders often go undelivered or ignored, calls will get ignored during working hours, customers move home without providing with a forwarding address, and ultimately the cost of chasing the debt is often more than the amount owed.
One of the solutions that utility providers can use to collect small value debt is Mobile Collect. By allowing customers to engage with you at a time that is convenient to them and on their favourite device, Mobile Collect makes the collection and payment process easier for both the business and customer alike.
By sending a single SMS message, customers will then receive a personalised Mobile Journey that presents them with a series of options, whether that is paying their debt in full, setting up a payment plan, promise to pay, or wanting to call you and speak about the debt.

Why change to a digital communication solution?

But why should utility providers move to a more digital approach when sending letters and calling customers has worked in the past? In addition to the increasing saturation of smartphones, it’s also worth considering that:

  • Sending letters have a higher cost to serve than other digital solutions;
  • Letters are not secure when compared to other digital channels;
  • Paper based billing has a negative environmental impact;
  • You’re unable to see if the letter has been read and left unactioned;
  • Call centres are only available during working hours;
  • Call waiting times are frequently too long, meaning customers can be deterred from calling and being put on hold;
  • Collection calls can feel extremely intrusive.

If you’re struggling to get buy-in from a change-resistant organisation, or simply can’t validate what channels would work best for your customer base, we can help; we’ve worked on award-winning communication projects with utility providers, and we’re here to help you make a success of this. Call us on 0345 356 5758 or email us on [email protected] and one of our solutions teams can assist you.

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