What we learned about Digital Transformation at Utility Week Live

As a digital agency with expertise in the utility sector, we recently attended the Utility Live conference at Birmingham’s NEC.

Utility Live conference

The event, which this year was titled ‘Transformation’, provided some great insights into the current and future market. Read on for more on the guidance and shared best practice in how to embrace change and stay ahead in the market place.

Regulatory changes, the emergence of new technologies, increased competition from new entrants and the rising expectations of digital savvy customers all signal a period of significant transformation. To be successful, utilities will need to focus on how best to attract and retain customers.  

Customer engagement

The introduction of competition in the non-domestic water sector and an increase in customers switching providers, are key factors compelling utilities to do more to improve the way they engage with customers. Customer engagement is also a key component of PR14 and expected to become more prominent in PR19, which will see water companies having to demonstrate how they are engaging with customers and have feedback loops in place to inform and shape their business plans.

Gaining a deeper understanding of your customers, how they interact with you and their preferences and needs is a good starting point. Then using data and knowledge to inform solution design, optimise user journeys, place the customer at the heart and improve content delivery, are important ways to improve engagement.  

Rise in customer expectations

The use of technology and data is recognised as one of the most influential factors affecting the way utilities interact with customers, based on a better understanding of customers and their expectations.

Over the last few years, online retailers’ such as ASOS, Amazon and John Lewis have paved the way and set new standards for others to follow. This has affected utilities whose current customers now have much higher expectations. Utilities need to respond by ensuring they meet new demands and provide a more personalised experience.

In David Walters presentation from SSE, he talks about the fast-changing consumer landscape and  the need to adapt to changing customer needs. He discussed 4 key trends:

  1. Personalisation – greater customer expectations – no longer one size fits all
  2. Simplification – reduction in friction and simplification of processes
  3. Always on – always there for customers 24/7/365
  4. Integrity – customers get organised and vote with their feet if they are dissatisfied

Increased competition

With the deregulation of the non-residential water market and new entrants providing utility services, an increase in switching and the inevitable opening of the residential market post 2020, competition is reaching new levels and customers are seeking greater choice, collaboration and convenience.

Duncan Barnes from Deloitte shared his thoughts on digital disruption and what this means for utilities, both in terms of opportunities and threats. He identified three areas that he believes will be key to winning in the sector:

  • Innovation and agility – the ability to use technology and adapt processes to meet future customer needs
  • Customer acquisition and retention – acting and thinking like a retailer  
  • Data and analytics – employing data scientists to uncover trends and how to monetise the data insights to deliver useful services

Smart Meters – from analogue to digital

By the end of 2020, around 53 million smart meters will be fitted in more than 30 million premises. The roll out of smart meters is expected to revolutionise the industry and provide the cornerstone to improving engagement and establishing new supplier and customer relationships.

Through the use of smart meters there will be a capability to turn energy consumption into an interactive customer experience. Utilities will have access to far greater insight into customer usage patterns enabling new opportunities to deliver personalised content and offer new products and services based on usage.


Omnichannel customer service is already impacting on the utility sector, with 92% of consumers choosing to use different channels to communicate with their utility provider’s customer service departments. Customers expect to be able to interact with companies using their communication channels of choice and in many cases interacting through 2-3 channels to accomplish a goal.

Utilities now must review their customer acquisition and support processes. They need to combine and integrate on and offline communication channels to deliver a seamless experience across all touchpoints. Recognising that one size does not fit all and having the capability to adapt to individual engagement patterns, whilst providing the same quality of service irrespective of the channel used, are key factors in achieving improved customer engagement.

From our perspective, one of the major challenges that many organisations face is how to connect marketing technology systems to create a marketing distribution platform that can support every customer touchpoint. By getting this right, organisations are able to reduce the cost to acquire, serve and get closer to your customers.

Personalisation – one size does not fit all

We all know that customers today expect to receive a personalised experience with access to content, delivered at the right time and in their preferred channel. The benefits of providing personalised content are well understood. It helps marketing and customer service teams keep customers engaged for longer, ensures a better customer experience and results in greater customer loyalty.

With the use of smart meters, utilities will now have access to significantly more data than ever before, which may be used to gain a better understanding of individual customer needs. The challenge for many is how to utilise customer data more effectively through integration with CRM  and CMS systems to deliver a more personalised online customer experience.

Market commentators believe that personalisation of services supported by data analytics will be the top trend that will change the call centre industry in the next five years.

Neil Bartholomew from Virgin Media provided a good presentation on what utilities can learn from the Telco sector who have experienced the same disruption in new entrants and fast changing customer behaviour. In his presentation, he talks about how customers now expect personalisation and a consistent and seamless journey across all engagement channels.

Cognitive Learning

Today’s research shows that Snapchat and Facebook Messenger are the most downloaded apps and the use of messaging apps has surpassed the use of social media networks. This represents a major shift in how people are choosing to communicate. In the future, we expect to see the emergence of cognitive learning within solutions to offer new ways to engage with customers using artificial intelligence and machine learning. This trend is supported by Gartner which states that by 2020, 85% of customer interactions will be managed without a human.  

In the presentation by Phil Spring from GBS Europe, he talks about how we are embarking on a new era of change and provides some great insights in how utilities can use cognitive solutions to transform business processes.

In summary, the utility sector is embarking on a new era of change which will present both opportunities and threats. Having a strategy in place that focuses on improving customer engagement, the experience you provide, as well as how you embrace new technology to evolve current processes and offer a seamless integrated experience across all channels will be key factors of success.

About CDS

CDS is an award-winning communications group with a wealth of experience of helping customers through digital transformation. This includes transitioning communications and user experiences away from costly, disconnected multi-channel journeys into consolidated omnichannel integrated solutions that combine both on and offline channels. Our experience and services focus on outcomes that help our clients drive bottom line growth – new customers, higher margins and lower opex costs. We achieve this by:

  • Channel shifting services from call centre and print, to digital when it benefits the end customer and our client
  • Connecting internal teams to each other to improve service delivery to customers
  • Connecting off and online communication distribution into a single strategy (Omnichannel)
  • Providing branding and market positioning that transforms customer and citizen behaviour

Find out why organisations like yours have chosen CDS as their communications partner. 

CDS are experts in a number of technology platforms favoured by the Utility sector including: Episerver, Sitecore, Microsoft Dynamics and Salesforce.  Get in touch to learn more about the solutions we've delivered for clients like South West Water.

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