Q:How can I enhance my utility’s large commercial and industrial (C&I) application process to give customers a great experience?

A:We recommend focusing on four areas to successfully activate new service for large C&I customers.

Proactive communication. Key account managers (KAMs) should establish proactive communication patterns with customers and offer assistance at each project stage from application to completion.

Accessible resources. Documentation on new-service requirements and resources should be easily available to business customers on your utility website. Ideally, these materials are accessible without requiring a login.

Customer portals. Online portals should be accessible for both customers and account managers so both parties can track progress and status changes. Customers and account managers benefit from receiving automated alerts as projects complete various stages.

Expedited permitting. Well-established relationships between your utility and county offices will help to expedite permitting time.

Before implementing new-service best practices, you should assess existing methods and identify areas for improvement. We encourage our members to analyze their new-service activation process from a large business customer’s perspective. This will enable you to understand the most granular, process-specific adjustments that will produce even the smallest wins.

Proactive communication

Communication is paramount when identifying best practices for conducting new-service activities with your large business accounts. We recommend taking a proactive approach in communicating with your large C&I customers and ensuring their satisfaction with their service activation experience.

New-service activation is a great opportunity to stay engaged with accounts and start things off on the right foot.

SRP and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) institute a callback policy once new-service activation is complete. These callbacks ensure that everything is working properly, and they deepen the trust and relationship with the customer. They also provide the customer the opportunity to ask any questions that may have come up since service application time. New-service activation is a great opportunity to stay engaged with accounts and start things off on the right foot. KAMs can create and strengthen their relationship with new accounts, in addition to building trust and promoting additional programs and services.

Data from the 2017 E Source Large Business Customer Satisfaction Study outlines recommended communication methods for large business customers. The majority of these customers prefer email for regularly communicating with their assigned account representatives, especially for learning about utility services and programs. However, phone is the preferred method of contact for outage communications (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Preferred contact method for large business customers

Website and email are the best ways to engage with large business customers for enrolling in a program or service.
44% of customers prefer to enroll in a program or service via email, 23% prefer to do this over email.

Accessible resources

In addition to proactive engagement led by KAMs to ensure customer success, many utilities also make resources readily available to their customers through self-serve portals on their website. Although this method can’t replace the value of in-person assistance offered to large C&I customers, it’s a helpful starting point for business customers. Online resources for new service make a good first impression and could set the tone for successful relationships with large accounts with follow-up from KAMs.

It’s imperative to have new-construction and new-service resources available online for customers who want to start researching and planning independently.

New-service customers will often begin their research on a utility website before contacting an account manager. It’s imperative to have new-construction and new-service resources available online for customers who want to start researching and planning independently. As a customer takes the initiative and begins their new-service registration online, a KAM should proactively follow up with them to offer assistance throughout the process and become involved at the earliest point the customer is comfortable with.

We’ve included useful and creative online resources offered by leading utilities:

  • PG&E offers Getting Started Guides, including checklists and resources, to help customers prepare for starting new service without having to log in.
  • Public Service Electric & Gas Co. has an Upgrades and New Installations page with resources to help its customers understand what requirements they need to meet before initiating construction.
  • CenterPoint Energy offers electric service FAQs with a section on new service to help customers know what to expect.
  • Tacoma Public Utilities presents information on permits and applications on its New Electric Services page.

You want your customers to be able to access the desired information with minimal effort—in other words, the smallest number of clicks. Number of clicks is a standard metric for evaluating how readily available pertinent information is to your customers.

Customer portals

Union Gas Ltd. worked with E Source to journey-map a customer’s new-service activation process. Union Gas customers can access the GetConnected customer portal to stay updated on the status and progress of their project. The online portal gives KAMs and business customers a convenient interface for communication and enhanced transparency about their plans (Figure 2). Through journey mapping, Union Gas modified tools and checkpoints and streamlined the new-service process for its customers. It’s important to determine where to establish key project checkpoints and reminders so KAMs can engage with customers when needed to keep construction moving along smoothly.

Figure 2: Customers and account managers benefit from Union Gas’s online portal

Union Gas Ltd. customers can schedule services, change appointments, and get project updates on the GetConnected website. Key account managers can use the site to easily engage with customers and keep plans moving efficiently.
Union Gas customers can use the GetConnected portal for a variety of self-service functions

Some key advantages gained by providing an online portal are:

  • Letting customers view current project status
  • Confirming and updating contact information
  • Simplifying the application submission process

Expedite permitting

E Source recently hosted a peer sharing call focused on new-construction and new-services setup. Participants openly discussed successful implementation strategies and shared common obstacles faced along the way. A key takeaway from this discussion was that the permitting requirements of these projects can be painfully slow at times and significantly alter the course of a new-service construction project.

You should actively be identifying opportunities to gain control over external variables.

You should actively be identifying opportunities to gain control over external variables. Obtaining permits can be time intensive, and complex projects have more steps and longer installation periods. To add efficiency to the permitting process, some utilities work closely with county offices. There have been some cases of utilities employing staff within county offices to work primarily on permitting for utility customers.

Although we do recommend KAMs taking the initiative and being more closely involved in C&I new services, customers respond differently to proactive, reactive, and hybrid engagement approaches. For key accounts, a proactive approach is usually best, but providing low-touch or self-serve options benefits the customer and you. It’s important to outline your customer’s communication preferences in a key account plan and to provide sufficient resources for them before they become deeply involved in their new-service application. An investment of time spent up front on the new-service initiations pays dividends in the end.

Contributing Authors

Manager, Customer Engagement Solutions

Devin Fink works closely with our members to help them maximize their business customer relationships. He conducts member training and onboarding,...