For utilities, customer experience, or CX, is not a new concept, but it is one that requires fresh ideas and practical innovation, both of which benefit from involving trade allies. As key links between customers and utility programs, trade allies are ideally positioned to influence these interactions. Utility leaders should tap the frequent contact trade allies have with customers as a cost-effective opportunity to help achieve CX and program goals.

As utilities add and refine programs and services that increase value for customers, trade allies are very often the first and last point of contact. The customers’ experiences influence their decisions and satisfaction with the program and the utility. A well-informed and responsive trade ally builds trust, delivers value and accurately represents the utility’s positions and programs. Without utility training, support and partnering, trade allies can negatively impact utility customer experience and satisfaction.

It is typical for customers of all types and sizes to have limited contact with their utility. The most common interaction is the monthly bill, which isn’t known for being a driver of high customer satisfaction. Since these types of direct interactions are often neutral or negative experiences, utilities should seek other ways to delight their customers. One proven way to do this is to build and maintain a strong trade ally network that supports utility initiatives. By engaging with trade allies, customers learn about and better understand the value of programs and services available from their utility. Maintaining a strong trade ally network creates an ecosystem where CX magic can happen.

How do utilities create this magic?

  1. Treat Trade Allies as Key Accounts. Build and maintain relationships with trade ally organizations and representatives. Call on them regularly to create multiple touch points each year. Understand their journey, their business and their needs. Recognize that in addition to being a utility trade ally and partner, they are often a utility customer too. Leverage their ability to field questions and resolve problems that would otherwise go to call centers, service representatives or regulators, which has the added benefit of reducing utility costs. Find common ground and mutually beneficial goals—one of which is typically high customer satisfaction.
  2. Keep Trade Allies Trained and Informed. Properly trained and motivated to delight customers, trade allies can be utility ambassadors who embrace and help achieve customer satisfaction goals. At the same time, trade allies gain new information and skills to sell the best products and projects, which enhances their own business. Clearly communicate your expectations and strive to engage trade allies in ways that complement their busy schedules. Ensure they have the tools and enough time to succeed by accurately representing utility initiatives. To meet the diverse needs of the trade ally staff, offer a range of tools including in-person, digital and online resources. Focus on enabling the trade ally to be the central point of purchase who genuinely assists customers with their needs.
  3. Recognize and Reward Trade Ally Partnerships. Share the utility customer satisfaction and program success with trade allies by showcasing their achievements and contributions. Celebrate together at regular intervals, such as annual events. Use the utility presence in the community to create avenues that spotlight trade ally businesses. Highlight trade ally, customer and utility partnerships through case studies about successful projects. Partner with key trade allies to increase revenues and diversify business for both the utility and trade ally.

Trade allies are already integrated into the success of many utility energy efficiency programs throughout North America. As energy markets evolve, utilities will benefit from expanding the role of trade ally networks into core customer experience initiatives as well. To do this well requires expertise in trade ally network strategy, planning, management, training and relationship development. Evergreen has been supporting utilities with these services for more than 20 years. Call us if you would like to discuss how we can leverage our experience to achieve your goals and initiatives.