In recent years there has been a marked shift in the utilities industry that has seen the ‘customer’ placed at the forefront of communications and engagement strategies. Annabel John, Director at Copper Consultancy, explores the concept of the ‘customer’ in the utilities industry and provides five tips for understanding customers in a changing industry.

Utilities companies have traditionally not prioritised customer satisfaction or experience – customers don’t have a choice about who provides their water so why should water companies invest time, energy and attention in improving customer satisfaction? However, in recent years, there has been a shift in the industry, and it is paying more attention to the concept of ‘customer’ than ever before.

Arguably, this has largely been driven by financial incentives from industry regulators, such as OfWat’s customer measure of experience (C-Mex), but these measures take account of customer satisfaction, even if the customer has not directly interacted with the company by paying a bill or making a complaint. That’s where reputation and perception start to play a role. Customers can now make a judgement on the company’s wider customer strategy and proactive communication and engagement come to the fore.

Here’s my five top tips for better understanding the customer in the age of satisfaction and experience:

  1. Define the customer and recognise they are complex– do not guess or make assumptions as customers can be complex and not all customers want the same type of interaction. Understanding their requirements and being clear about your objectives is key. This can be achieved by conducting an in-depth perception audit to better understand the sentiment towards the company from individuals and stakeholders.
  2. Articulate what customers are buying – while customers can often find themselves with little choice about who they buy from in the utilities sector (even more so for water customers), they still want to know how and why their money is being spent and what value they will get from it. Building a clear narrative that communicates a company’s vision, values and purpose will form the foundations for a drumbeat of positive news.
  3. Show good service – communicating and showcasing success can be more important than explaining disruption as it demonstrates key areas of your work that customers may be unaware of. With customer rankings now incorporating ‘blind’ sampling, ensuring customers recall the positive work you have undertaken has never been more critical.
  4. Bring the customer in – good service cannot demonstrate satisfaction on its own. Customers can help tell that story, but they cannot from a distance and customers do not supply positive feedback on demand. Credible, reliable and empathetic information and proactive engagement builds trust which, in turn, builds brand reputation.
  5. Dive into digital – technology will always move faster than largescale organisations but, digital communications tactics can bring flexibility and immediacy with how to communicate with customers; organisations who embrace it will reap the long term rewards.

If you want to find out more about how Copper can generate and build corporate reputation and advocacy among stakeholders, and support your digital engagement efforts, please contact