Australian energy providers have work to do to improve their digital channels.

One-third of energy consumers say their provider’s digital channels such as websites and mobile apps could not meet their online requests and they had to contact a live agent, according to new research from Accenture.

The 2017 edition of the New Energy Consumer research program from Accenture paints a challenging picture of the sector. Squeezed by falling profits, technology disruption and outside competitors targeting their customers, energy providers face the additional challenge of falling short of consumers’ expectations for digital channels and personalised experiences.

For Australian consumers who had interacted with their energy providers via digital channels over the past 12 months, digital dissatisfaction stemmed from issues like having trouble finding information on energy providers’ websites (48 per cent).

Consumers also said these sites took too long to load (34 per cent); lacked needed information (34 per cent) and were not personalised (31 per cent). Thirty per cent said they were not fun or interesting to use, were not intuitive (31 per cent) and did not provide consistent information (23 per cent).

“These shortfalls are significant to note as energy providers are under more pressure than ever to rotate toward new, integrated end-consumer solutions and rapidly launch new products and digital services,” said Charlie Richardson, managing director who leads Accenture’s energy retail and customer services practice in ANZ.

“The key to catching up is for energy providers to revamp their operating models to keenly focus on consumers who are increasingly using digital channels, services, and platforms. Providers need to move quickly to shift from decades of long planning cycles and rigid processes to quickly create a new culture that reshapes and delivers personalised customer experiences, before agile competitors who are ahead in the digital game get there first.”

Data for discounts

According to the report, 62 per cent of respondents said a discount would make them likely or very likely to share personal and energy usage details with their energy providers’ partners so they could receive customised products and services.

More than three quarters of Australian consumers (80 per cent) said discounts would convince them to use a digital-only customer service program for all their interactions with their energy provider, except for outages.

“Hyper-relevance through more digital engagement will be key for energy providers to grow new revenue streams, build customer loyalty and in deregulated markets position against price-only plays,” said Richardson.

“This requires developing personalisation strategies across experiences and channels, as well as new and traditional service offerings.”

For 82 per cent of consumers, new products and services should be personalised to their needs and preferences in order to be purchased. What’s more, almost half of consumers in competitive markets, 46 per cent, said they would consider changing energy providers, if the incumbent’s products and services were not personalised to their needs and preferences.

Appliance manufacturers the new energy competitors

Energy providers are still more trusted by consumers than non-traditional competitors that are expanding into the industry. But home appliances manufacturers or home service providers are now seen by half of consumers as equally well positioned to help them understand and optimise energy consumption.

Among the early adopters, 29 per cent of consumers who regularly use digital channels said they would be willing to pay for a connected home bundled service, such as one that manages lighting, smart thermostats, entertainment and security systems. That compares with only 15 per cent of people who don’t use digital channels regularly to interact with their energy provider.

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