This post was originally published on FirstFuel’s website. FirstFuel is now Uplight.
Despite energy providers’ recent investments in expanding energy programs, products, and digital services, small and medium business customers remain largely untapped and detached.
The missing piece to higher customer engagement, satisfaction, and energy savings is a compatible customer experience. SMB customers are generally time-starved with a low tolerance for errors. They are also risk-averse and emotionally invested. These customers aren’t looking for best-in-class innovations, but rather a reliable concierge who has their interests at heart, who understands and appreciates their business vulnerability, resource constraints, and decision-making, to help them grow with less risk and effort. The inherent complexities that come with more choice around energy solutions can bring about just the opposite – leading to resistance and inertia.
Energy providers can end the prolonged period of mutual disinterest by becoming a compassionate partner, thereby reducing risks and efforts throughout the SMB customer journey. By paving the path of least resistance for customers to achieve their goals, providers will be rewarded with loyalty. Here are three key tips to consider:
1. Nail the First Impression
- Effortless onboarding: Most SMB customers either lack the luxury to understand yet another tool or the deep energy expertise to demystify new energy programs and services. According to ServiceSource, technology platforms have a 90-day window of opportunity for winning a business customer over, after which less than 10% of the users will become loyal. Provide a quick tutorial for a new tool or service, so they can become pros, too.
- Snackable reinforcements: When information comes in stages, customers can form habits, build momentum, practice use, and incorporate into their routine. JD Power has found that the most effective onboarding programs reach a new customer between 6-9 times over the first 6 months of the relationship. Motivate customers to return with bite-size content that highlights new and underused features, such as a tip for the grocery segment on budgeting for the upcoming hot summer.
- Relevance shows compatibility: Business owners assess how decisions affect their operations as a whole, making the industry niche more relevant than size in many cases. Identify business cycles and patterns in customer habits to engage your audience at the most critical moment. For example, help customers demystify new benchmarking laws and requirements that apply to their building size and type. Or illustrate the cost savings from energy efficiency upgrades in terms of business drivers, such as revenue per additional patron at a restaurant.
2. Nourish the Customer Relationship
- Invest in your customers: In 2013, American Express formed an alliance with SMBs by prioritizing their success. “This is the day to go out and support small businesses.” The company even provided Facebook inventory for free. The Small Business Saturday campaign generated $5.7 billion in sales and turned into a cultural movement that “made the pie bigger for everyone.” There is no better way to earn customer loyalty than by embracing their success. Help SMBs cut costs by setting energy savings goals, and educate them about ways to conserve with videos, webinars, workshops, and use-cases. Finally, celebrate their success!
- Instill confidence: While larger businesses use referrals and networks to source vendors, small businesses likely search the web for an answer at arm’s length, or resort to inertia until the problem cannot be ignored. Leverage the momentum when there’s a high bill, and remove obstacles by recommending immediate online solutions: a better rate plan or rebate program. De-risk different energy options by showing exactly what and when to expect and compelling proof of results.
- Be fair and predictable: As energy rates transition from cost- to value-based pricing, customers may lack the understanding to be incentivized and adjust usage accordingly, rendering pricing schemes ineffective. Furthermore, unexpected energy expenses can be detrimental to SMBs’ sustainability, leading to more complaints and service costs. In response, explain why and how prices changed clearly and frequently, as well as the potential difference ahead of a changing season. Customer Intelligence platforms such as FirstFuel’s FirstEngage delivers precise bill forecasts to help business customers manage expectations and mitigate risks that jeopardize their success.
3. Build a Community
- Reach beyond contact of record: Even with small businesses, there is often more than one influencer, decision maker, and other employee involved in energy decisions. Make information easy to share through multiple user access to your online website and email tools for the customers and CSRs. Connecting stakeholders not only shortens sales cycles but also improve product stickiness. After Oracle began actively engaging with decision makers, the company’s customer retention rate was more than 20% greater.
- Create more opportunities for dialogue: Customers are far more invested and loyal when they become experts and have ownership over others’ success. Provide online forums to support the SMB communities, send surveys to solicit feedback, and reward their participation. Moderate discussions to demonstrate your commitment. In turn, customers will generate testimonials and word of mouth endorsements.
- Craft the experience from within: CSRs and account managers are on the front lines with customers every day. If employees show confidence, enthusiasm, and knowledge of relevant topics to SMBs, they will extend credibility and trust your brand to cultivate deeper relationships with them. Research by Aberdeen suggests onboarding programs have the potential of improving both revenue per employee and customer satisfaction by more than 60%.
For SMB customers, the path of least resistance for energy providers is one that accommodates their diverse constraints, appreciates their vulnerability, and enables their success. Create an effortless journey from the moment of onboarding, and drive customer satisfaction by helping them understand and reap the benefits of innovative energy solutions.