As we move toward open energy markets, new players will be competing to offer consumers many of the services utilities offer today. It will no longer be enough to just meet our obligation to serve. We will also need to provide the products and services that customers value, at a level superior to that of the competition, while enhancing value to shareholders.
To retain customers, utilities need to understand the nature of the market. What customer values shape it? How are we positioned against the competition? And how can we respond to customer values profitably?
In 1993, Southern California Gas Co. decided to find out. The resulting Customer Value Initiative had four key goals: 1) refine our understanding of what customers value, 2) integrate these values into the company's customer satisfaction program, 3) develop an overall strategy for products and services, and 4) adapt the findings to our customer call centers.
One Size Does Not Fit All
The most important lesson we learned can be summed up in the catch phrase, "One size does not fit all." Companies that operate in competitive environments have known this for years.
We used to see our 4.7 million customers as large monolithic customer groups established primarily for allocating costs and setting rates. We now see them as distinct population segments with varying service needs and desires, and unique characteristics that affect their views of our company.