As the economy grows, so does the hunger for energy. According to BP Energy Outlook 2016, global energy consumption will increase by 34 percent between 2014 and 2035. At the same time, many North American consumers, wary of price fluctuations and concerned about their personal environmental impact, expect low-cost, clean energy and will go to great lengths to find it.
Changing consumer expectations present new challenges to companies like Alliant Energy, a publicly traded electric and natural gas utility company based in the Midwest U.S. Alliant Energy chose to rethink how it communicates with the residential customer base and improve customer experience. It needed a way to build stronger relationships. One solution: launch an insight community, Power Thinkers™, with a membership composed of 1,830 residential customers.
Join Alliant Energy, a 2016 Visionary Award winner for customer experience, at our upcoming Customer Intelligence Summit in Chicago this September 20-21 to hear more.
How customer feedback transformed Alliant Energy
Customer feedback has helped transform Alliant Energy. It’s made the company more innovative, more nimble and more open to new ideas. The company’s leadership has adopted a customer-first mindset, basing and vetting important decisions on what the Alliant Energy customer wants.
Mike Thiede, customer experience consultant, and Shawn Kapper, customer experience manager at Alliant Energy, empower their insight community members to help shape programs and services. “Our online community provides us with insight that allows us to enhance their experience quickly and in a cost effective way,” Thiede tells us.
Using customer intelligence to inform services and programs
The company consults Power Thinkers before launching most new offerings and services or updating existing programs. This allows for critical adjustments before implementing across the larger customer base. Power Thinkers provides feedback on account number changes, outage communications, bill inserts and website enhancements—helping smooth transitions and clarify communications. For example, feedback from Power Thinkers helped the company decide how new billing text notifications should read, with clear account information and due dates.
Customer intelligence also guides the direction of new rebates. Alliant Energy asked Power Thinkers about electric vehicles and the main reasons why members might not purchase or lease one. Fifty-seven percent of the community engaged in the online activity, proving green vehicles are a hot topic. Interestingly, 53 percent said they would consider getting an electric if the price was lower, while 29 percent wanted more places to charge. After fully understanding this business opportunity, Alliant Energy launched a customer and employee rebate pilot program for electric vehicle charging stations.
Bringing a whole new awareness to campaigns
Feedback from the Power Thinkers community has also impacted Alliant Energy’s marketing strategies. On one occasion, the company realized that a vast majority (84 percent) of consumers weren’t aware of its voluntary green-energy program. Ninety percent of the Power Thinkers members who were aware of the program said it was important to them to know the makeup of renewable power sources. They also wanted a more affordable way to help the environment.
Armed with these findings and additional market information, the company reconsidered its pricing structure, and reduced green energy costs by 30 percent. The marketing department increased green-energy promotions, shifting messaging to focus on how lower costs makes saving resources more accessible—a win-win for everyone.
"It was clear that we had a need to reach deeper into our customers’ hearts and minds."
Creating a trusting relationship with community members
“A relationship goes two ways,” says Thiede, “and that is how we communicate with our community members.” Power Thinkers tell Alliant Energy what they want to know more about, how to simplify and market services clearly and how they want to be engaged. In exchange for this invaluable insight, the company shares how Power Thinkers shaped the company in timely follow-up newsletters.
Impressively, Alliant Energy’s regulatory complaint numbers have decreased by 50 percent over the last two years. “Power Thinkers is part of the reason we see our metrics improving so consistently,” says Thiede.
The customer intelligence that Power Thinkers provides Alliant Energy is essential for meeting customers’ evolving expectations. Power Thinkers is one of the ways that customer satisfaction increased by 15 index points and Alliant Energy’s net promoter score (NPS) increased by 88 percent—growing from 17 in 2014 to 32 in 2016. It’s exactly this kind of customer experience improvement that all companies strive for.
“Our Power Thinkers community is authentic because it’s made up of our residential customers," says Thiede. "We trust community members’ opinions and listen to them, because they understand how changes we make will affect them directly.”