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The utility industry and the millennial struggle

Product Manager MECOMS
Leslie De Cuyper
Product Manager MECOMS
· 7 min read

Everyone in the working world has noticed: the workplace has been changing drastically. The rise of technology has brought a lot of advantages and challenges to which companies have had to react. And those same technologies have created a generation of digital natives, the millennials, who are challenging old expectations and norms in the workplace.

There’s been ample writing in the past few years on the impact millennials are having on the workplace, and the utility sector is no exception to this evolution.

As presumably everyone in business knows by now, the millennial generation are today’s and tomorrow’s clients. They are large in numbers, and most companies are starting to adapt to this generational shift. They’re looking into and utilising new methods and channels to reach these younger customers – and sell to them. Millennials are the first generational group that grew up as digital natives: they never knew a world without technology, and hence incorporate that technology organically in every part of their personal and professional lives.

An area where this shift is very noticeable is that of customer service, and corresponding customer satisfaction – an area where utility companies have also been struggling. Although utility providers worldwide have invested heavily in improving their customer satisfaction “scores”, different reports and studies around the world shows they are still the worst-rated industry. In some reports, such as a recent study from MyClever, the utitlity industry is used as a benchmark for this very reason. It’s an unfortunate reality that many in the sector are aware of, but remedying this problem has proven to be a difficult task.

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Making customers happy, one call at a time?

A possible explanation for this lies with the rise of technology and the millennial generation. Many large corporations across industries have struggled, for different reasons, to catch up to the revolution in personal and mobile technology that millennials grew up driving. Most utility companies fall in this category. Meanwhile, smaller, more agile businesses were able to incorporate these trends much more quickly, raising the bar for customer service.

In other words, the utility industry has improved its customer service – but meanwhile, the standards have been raised, and customers (across generations) now expect more. Companies struggle to please customers through the traditional call centers, heavy help documents, and slow email communication, while those customers are increasingly communicating and receiving help through social media channels or by instant-messaging help desk employees.

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On the other side of the customer satisfaction conundrum is the fact that most providers have been attempting to cut their cost-to-serve, while improving their standards of customer care. That is a difficult balancing act. To improve the call center experience, companies should strive for short waiting times, and increased (preferably 24/7) availability, which would require it to upscale, increasing the costs. Meanwhile, tools like self-service platforms and strong FAQs can significantly reduce the load on and need of call centers, but the effects are only noticeable when the vast majority of customers use these platforms – 80% is an often used standard. We’re already offering these customer self-service platforms to our clients by including it in our MECOMS package.

Finding the middle ground in this problem will be one of the main challenges facing energy providers in the coming years. The industry will have to start improving their online presence and customer platforms, and begin leveraging modern technologies millennials are used to – from personalised social media to automated chatbots – to improve customer’s perception and happiness.

Attracting millennial employees

All of this focuses on the millennial generation as customers – a fact that most companies are at least aware of, and most are trying to act on. However, the general workforce is also becoming increasingly filled with millennial employees: by 2025, millennials will make up 75% of the workforce. And that number will only rise in the coming years: the youngest millennials are only just finishing their educations, and increasing numbers of baby boomers are retiring.

75%
of the workforce will be millennials by 2025

In spite of these numbers, many companies are forgetting to look inside their own ranks. They report troubles getting their young employees to relate to them, finding it hard to attract, hire, and keep them. Meanwhile, they are trying to force outdated systems and devices on a generation that is used to changing phones every year. They limit professional communication to email and phone calls and discourage BYOD policies. They expect millennial employees to write and use documents and spreadsheets in offline software applications, on internal shared drives, where the only option for collaboration are endless edits in email threads.

This problem is much bigger than the utilities industry: many employers severely underestimate the pervasiveness of technology in their younger employees’ lives, and fail to put those same tools to good use in their workplace. But utility providers are notoriously legacy-heavy, which makes it hard for them to appeal to millennials, who take their expectations as consumers into the work environment. Luckily, all of this does not imply that younger employees are uninterested in the utility sector. Some of the most pressing challenges and opportunities – regarding the environment, renewable energy sources, the rise of electric cars – are related to the utility sector, and young employees are certainly eager to work on these issues.

Today’s buyers, tomorrow’s leaders

Not only are millennials becoming an increasingly large part of the workforce, they’re also rising up the ranks quite quickly. Because the large generation of baby boomers is gradually retiring from the workplace, millennials are also increasingly becoming B2B decision-makers and buyers. A study from Google showed that in 2015, 42% of B2B buyers were part of the millennial generation.

”Can you stay on a traditional path and sell multi-million dollar waterfall systems to the agile app generation?”

This evolution is very important for software companies like ourselves. As we stated before, this is a generation with different habits, and with expectations driven by the products they use as consumers. This begs the question: can you stay on a traditional path and sell multi-million dollar waterfall systems to the agile app generation? Additionally, can you promote the graces of your system in giant, elaborate text-only manual documents to a generation that grew up with bite-sized information and interactive learning? Software providers like ourselves and utility providers need to evolve with the market, both B2B and B2C, and incorporate the valuable but different mindset of the millennials. With MECOMS, we’re working hard to change and streamline our offerings, for instance by shifting – optionally – to a software as a service business model. And as a company, Ferranti strives to continuously detach itself from that legacy mindset, and find better and more direct ways to communicate with our (millennial) clients, such as finding ways to truly strategically leverage social media. As providers for the utility industry, we’re committed to continuously figuring out new ways to reach millennials - both as happy customers, and as tomorrow’s leaders.

Leslie and his team will be at the European utility week 2016. Want to talk to them about how MECOMS is helping organizations adapt to the evolving millennial needs?


Product Manager MECOMS
Leslie De Cuyper
Product Manager MECOMS
· 7 min read