Utilities that take a lifecycle approach to Web self-service can improve customer adoption of these programs, beyond recurring functions such as bill pay and into connect/disconnect and outage communications.
The 4 Stages of Web Self-Service: How to Harness the Power and Improve Adoption
• Cognizant 20-20 InsightsThe 4 Stages of Web Self-Service: How toHarness the Power and Improve Adoption Executive Summary pretation of data (e.g., consumption and weather correlation) can work to the customer’s advantage For a utility company (electricity, gas or water), and significantly aid in customer retention. Thus, the channels of interaction with customers include the old-school needs relative to attracting and direct mail, IVR/CTI, call centers and the Web. retaining customers remain constant, but now they These channels serve two purposes: direct commu- must be attended to within the context of AMI and nication with customers and operation of business reengineered/new processes. functions such as connect/disconnect, billing and payment that are core to a utility’s business. Building this new ecosystem means adopting the latest in usability engineering, social networking, Web self-service channels are immensely powerful Web 2.0, etc. This paper introduces the idea that in their ability to reach the masses and reduce online programs have lifecycle stages, as well, costs (e.g., an e-mail bill costs a fraction of a paper and slowly lose their ability to provide incremen- bill). While some self-service functions such as bill tal value to customers. An understanding of these payment have traditionally enjoyed high adoption lifecycle stages is important for improving customer because of their recurring nature (bills come every adoption of online programs. Hence, there is a need month) and convenience, the same cannot be said of to continuously evaluate and invigorate online some other functions, such as connect/disconnect programs. This paper also reveals how customer or outage communications. A low adoption rate adoption of outage communications and connect/ of these forms of self-service has a direct cost disconnects through Web self-service can be impact and also adds to operational issues, such improved using a lifecycle stage assessment. as resource planning at the call center. Increasing customer adoption of self-service functions is also Web Self-Service: An Overview important for improving customer retention. For these reasons, self-service is always a key focus Not long ago, Web self-service was touted as the area for Web strategists, customer care process savior of customer service operations. With the owners and IT and usability experts. emergence of e-commerce and increasing pervasive- ness of the Internet, pundits posited that automation The Web channel assumes increased significance of key processes would enable ”customer self-help” with Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), and, hence, reduce reliance on call center agents, since there is more data to disseminate and more thus improving efficiencies and lowering costs. customer education and involvement needed. This presents both a problem and a solution. The problem Though Web self-service has established itself in is that too many process changes and too much data many industries, it is now clear that it is has not can turn customers away. But an intelligent inter- been a panacea, at least to the extent anticipat- cognizant 20-20 insights | january 2011
ed. But as the level of sophistication, access and Web Self-Service Adoptionfamiliarity with the Internet has grown, Web-based Beyond online bill payment, other activities thatself-service has become a more promising and employ Web self-service do not enjoy a similarproductive channel for self-directed service appli- high rate of adoption. But before discussing thecations. Today, there is ample evidence to suggest issues that plague online self-service adoption, itthat many enterprises are investing significantly is important to talk about how it is measured.in getting self-service right, especially Web self-service, to boost intended customer experience. Web self-service programs in the utilities industryBut numerous questions abound regarding how can be classified in two buckets: Programs thatself-directed customer interaction truly improves require registration and are used on a regularthe way a company interacts with its customers. basis (i.e., bill payment) and those that are used infrequently (outage reporting, connect/Web Self-Service in Utilities disconnect, etc.). Thus, Web self-service successSelf-service has seen a higher level of investment must be measured on two fronts:in sectors such as banking and retail. The reasonsfor this are fairly obvious; these sectors serve • Enrollment/registration and usage: How many customers sign up for programs? How many ofmore customers on a regular day than any other the registered customers actually use the pro-sector. This has led to more innovation and better grams they sign up for?penetration within these sectors. • Transaction completion/conversion rate: HowUtilities have been slow to latch onto the Web many customers actually complete the transac-self-service trend; in fact, the industry traditional- tion?ly lagged behind most in adopting Web-delivered Challenges to self-service adoption include:services that enable interaction with customers.But the rapid adoption of Web self-service in • A clear self-service strategy: As revealedother industries has benefited utilities by making earlier, a large number of organizations lack aconsumers more familiar with and educated about clear service strategy. While there is no deny-such services. ing the fact that developing and maintaining a strategy that truly unifies IVR, contact centersThe emergence of AMI enables two-way commu- and Web self-help into a seamlessly integratednications between the meter and the utility and, customer experience is difficult to do, the lackamong other things, helps customers monitor and of a strategy can leave customers confused andmanage the way they use energy. Distribution ultimately cause Web self-service offerings toautomation and allied technologies have opened fall short of desired outcomes.up the possibility and the need for introducingmore self-help features to customers. • Metrics definitions to measure success of Web self-service programs: Perhaps this isWeb self-service features offered by utilities have because Web self-service has traditionally beenprimarily been around billing and payment. Other seen as a second or third option for customercore business processes like outage reporting, interaction and, thus, not seen as essential totrouble calls, high bill inquiries, connect/ close measurement. However, with the increas-disconnect, demand-side management programs, ing trend1 seen in self-directed interactions andetc. have not been promoted on a self-help channel demand for Web self-service, it’s clear that en-(Web or IVR) because of persistent technology terprises will need to start putting more effortinadequacies. But the landscape is changing now into developing measurements and setting tar-from a technology and customer expectation gets for Web self-service interaction.point of view, as well as from a customer servicecost standpoint. • Program upgrades, ongoing support and maintenance:2 Most companies do a poor jobAMI is a true game changer. Near real-time access of quality assurance on their Web programs.to customer consumption data, network data Many Web self-service sites are launched toand developments such as home-area networks great fanfare but are not supported consistent-promise to raise customer service capabilities a ly thereafter. It is extremely unlikely to get allfew notches higher. Customers will be able to pick self-service programs right the first time. Anyfrom different tariff plans and perform various program would need a beta launch, where thewhat-if analyses to make more intelligent and organization can learn from its customers. Ininformed decisions about consumption. Web self- reality, this must be an ongoing activity, sinceservice will play an important role in this. customers will always want more from these cognizant 20-20 insights 2
offerings — more features, more convenience, and process teams, through the IT organization. etc. It is not wrong to say that the day custom- Consider the following: ers stop giving feedback is the day the program may have failed. Without meaningful feedback, • Online programs are analogous to products the ongoing incremental value that a program in more ways than one. Customer satisfaction, provides to customers also diminishes. user experience and cost efficiencies achieved are equivalent to revenue derived from the• Promotions and incentives: Greater adoption product. of Web self-service tools often comes down to how much you remind your target audience • Self-service programs have measurable suc- about the site’s existence and the benefits it can cess rates. The success rate can be measured bring. Furthermore, this needs to be promoted in terms of convenience provided to custom- based on how well the program performs. ers; adoption rate (the percentage of the in- tended customer set adopting it); conversion• Balancing functionality with usability:3 Func- rate (the percentage of those who use it who tionality and usability need to be balanced to succeed); retention (the percentage of those widen the appeal and increase the prospect who enroll that stay enrolled); and usage rate of greater self-service adoption. Most users (the percentage of enrolled users who actively won’t persevere through a complicated user use it). Each of these parameters is used simi- interface (i.e., multiple steps that need a vari- larly to measure product success. ety of inputs from the user, processes that span multiple screens, etc.), however advantageous • Self-service programs have a lifecycle. Pro- the functionality may be. This is also one of the grams are launched to address unique cus- reasons energy efficiency programs are often tomer needs, but they face competition, may not well-executed on a self-service platform. lose their uniqueness and may need to be enhanced to stay relevant (e.g., smartphone-Program Lifecycle Stage Assessment: based alternatives of Web-based programs).A Framework For Self-Service Adoption They may also go through growth stages (seeTo successfully deploy a Web self-service program, Figure 1), stages of maturity and stages of de-utilities need a framework that provides sufficient cline, as well. Examples include losing out to ainsights and best practices to guide the entire newer technology alternative or a similar ser-company through the process, from marketing vice provided by an alternative source, such asThe Stages of Web Self-Service Stage Characteristics 1. Market 1. Initial costs are high. Introduction 2. Slow adoption and conversion. 3. More effort needed for customer education and information dissemination. 4. Return on investment could be low. 2. Growth 1. Costs significantly lowered (fixed costs and program enhancement costs). 2. Rapid customer adoption. 3. Increased customer awareness. 4. Potential alternatives emerge in the market or customers demand better solutions. 3. Maturity 1. Minimal running expenses. 2. Customer adoption possibly near peak levels. 3. Increase in competitive pressures (e.g., a Google Power Meter can compete with an in-house offering). 4. Increased need to focus on customer satisfaction. 5. Return on investment near peak. 4. Saturation 1. The service may become irrelevant to customer needs. and Decline 2. Customers may need to be rolled up into a different service offering. 3. With no strategic benefits, the service could cost more than it saves.Figure 1 cognizant 20-20 insights 3
a bank that provides a bill pay service vs. a bill • Metrics programs for Web self-service programs pay service provided by a utility. are not aligned with program lifecycle, leading to a less than accurate interpretation of success.From this, it can be inferred that a product lifecyclemanagement approach to managing online self- Unlike other products and programs, understand-service programs can deliver significant benefits. ing and mapping an online program to a specificWe call this a Web Self-Service Program Lifecycle lifecycle stage is a little tricky. It requires a detailedStage Assessment. understanding of customers, the program, market needs and external influencing factors for properlyImproving Self-Service Success Rates mapping a program to a particular lifecycle stage and then acting accordingly. This makes metricsA quick recap of the discussion so far: reporting and interpretation very important.• Many organizations do not strongly link cus- tomer service strategy with Web self-service Figure 2 illustrates how a self-service strategy can programs. be aligned with lifecycle stages of a program. The focus areas highlighted below are essentially what• Many do not have a clear thought process for an organization should focus on as action items. managing a self-service program over its life- cycle.Market Introduction Stage Lifecycle Stage Self-Service Strategy Focus Areas • Beta launches • Focus on program reach Market • Customer education • Net new customer Introduction • Information addition Stage dissemination • Gather feedback and • Aggressive customer improve the program communication offering • Incentives and promotionsFigure 2Issues to consider include: • Vital stats can be gathered from promotions/ incentives and customer response to other• Defining a self-service strategy during the mar- promotional activities.4 ket introduction stage requires a deep under- standing of the program and target customers. Together, these three action items should arm A bill payment program tends to have a high a utility with enough insight on customer per- adoption rate purely because of its nature ception of the intended program, as well as the (paying a bill is an activity customers have to potential effectiveness of promotion and custom- do every month), while a connect/disconnect er awareness about the program, etc. This should feature would not have a high adoption rate, also tell decision makers if continued promotions because this is not an activity that customers are needed or if a change in customer communi- need to perform very often. cation strategy should be adopted.• Decision makers also need to have a target cus- If it is estimated, based on the above, that enough tomer segment in mind and understand their propensity to sign up for new programs. Exist- awareness and customer attention has been gath- ing online customers are more likely to sign up ered, and initial targets for customer enrollment for new programs than customers who do not have been reached, a decision can be made to focus prefer online channels. This customer base can on activities that are related to a growth stage. provide a solid indication of how many custom- The only difference between the growth and ers may sign up for the new program. maturity phases for a utility is the amount of cognizant 20-20 insights 4
Growth and Maturity Stage Lifecycle Stage Self-Service Strategy Focus Areas • Usability improvements Focus on: Growth Stage • Performance improvements • Net new additions to customer base • Regular customer • Regular users communications • Feedback from customers dropping off • Maintain bare essential • Maintain customer base, ensure communications the loyal ones do not drop off Maturity Stage • Maintain usability • Focus on new customers signing up and performance levels for other programs • Develop upselling and cross-selling strategyFigure 3time and effort spent on customer education and Utilities are different from other industries relativecustomer communication. to their products and services. The differences are revealed the following ways:As detailed below, a vast majority of the utilityindustry’s self-service programs can continue to • Many are regulated, meaning they have a mo-be in a slow-growth or maturity phase. nopoly over their service territories.Saturation and Decline Stage Lifecycle Stage Self-Service Strategy Focus Areas Saturation and • Keep the lights on • Focus on upselling/ • Keep customer cross selling Decline Stage communications clearFigure 4• The services they provide do not drastically > A program becomes irrelevant because of change over time, nor does their customer base. changes in the market. For example, an en- Hence, a self-service program entering a decline ergy assessment program can become less phase is possible only in a few scenarios. efficient in the face of a more competitive > Customers defecting to an online service alternative like Google Power Meter. provided by a different service provider (e.g., bill pay services provided by a bank or Based on any one of the developments above, a service provider such as Checkfree). a utility must make a decision on whether a declining service is something that it wants to > A known and planned decline, such as the maintain. If the answer is yes, it then calls for a utility retiring a service (e.g., an incentivized radical rethink of the Web self-service strategy solar energy program) that is supported by or a plan to complete a gradual phase-out of the government, and the government with- the service. draws the incentives. cognizant 20-20 insights 5