Utility Company’s Newfound Connection With Its Customers Transforms Business

Frank Hughes

One of the largest, most successful utilities in the U.S., Duke Energy has expanded rapidly as the energy sector inevitably evolves with its global realities. The Charlotte, N.C.-based utility realized a few years ago that simply delivering electricity and natural gas to more than 9 million customers across six states is no longer enough. In today’s world, companies in all industries are transforming to become intelligent enterprises and consumers are comparing their experiences with their regular service providers.

Duke Energy identified transforming the customer experience as one of its five strategic priorities and became the first U.S.-based utility to adopt such an extensive customer priority. Presenting on stage at the annual Accenture SAP Leadership Council event, Retha Hunsicker, VP Customer Connect Solutions at Duke Energy, shared with a broad audience of Accenture and SAP executive clients how the Customer Connect Program is foundational to transforming the customer experience. Working with Accenture, Duke Energy is consolidating four legacy systems for customer billing into one customer engagement platform to enable the universal experience (and simplified billing) that customers expect. To achieve simplification for customers, the platform combines data and analytics, customer engagement, and meter to cash processes.

Duke Energy, SAP, and Accenture are delivering on this vision to not only bring new technical capabilities but also to get to know customers and what matters to them. This enables Duke Energy to build relationships while engaging with and empowering their customers.

“When we first started talking about this, we shared with Duke Energy that a lot of these transformations are like a heart transplant: You take out the heart, put in a new one, make sure it is still beating at the end, and move on,” said Dondi Schneider, managing director in Accenture’s Utilities practice, who was attending the annual Accenture SAP Leadership Council in South Beach.

“This is really the first one in quite some time where we are not just looking to transform the business but also to transform the customer experience and the relationship that Duke Energy has with their customers,” Schneider continued. “Duke Energy uses an ecosystem of measurement tools for understanding customers’ needs and expectations.  We figured out years ago that customers are not comparing two utilities; your utilities customer is comparing your utility to their other service providers – like their cell phone company or cable provider – that you interact with on a monthly basis.”

Retha Hunsicker explained, “As we implemented a digital core platform as part of our very first release, we can pull all the data together and correlate it. We were able to take survey data and operational data then merge it in ways we have not been able to do before.”  This data is priceless, Duke Energy realized, and could change the way in which they prioritize customer initiatives, informing future service design and influencing how they conducted their business.

Significant strides are being made to expand on the concept of combining operational data and experience data.

“The nature of operational data (O-data) and experiential data (X-data) are complementary,” said SAP executive board member Adaire Fox-Martin. “The O-data actually tells you what happened and when it happened. The X-data tells you why it happened.”

With the help of surveys that started in 2018, Duke Energy discovered that they were spending a lot of time worrying about things that did not necessarily matter to their customers. The information, obtained digitally, is helping Duke Energy trim out the inefficiencies and focus their resources accordingly.

“Generally speaking, we had a view that we needed every channel to be the same and that customers value the same functionality in every channel. Consequently, we tried to be perfect at everything,” Hunsicker said. “And what we have found out is that is not the case.

“There are some interactions with customers that mean much more than others, so being perfect at everything isn’t the benchmark. Being flawless at the things that matter to customers is what is important. Those moments that matter most are moves, billing, and payment. Every customer receives a bill, and every customer makes a payment. They want it to be easy, with no surprises, and [they want] to be able to take action on their terms, whenever they choose.”

Duke Energy is making the needed changes, prioritizing based on customer feedback and concentrating on data that turns interactions into positive, meaningful moments for their customers.

Also thanks to the surveys, Duke Energy discovered strengths and weaknesses across their six states, enabling them to identify best practices and streamline processes. Sharing customers’ perceptions, along with specific information about their actual experience, is helping managers make better, more educated decisions.

“Now we have the ability to look at the granular data and gather insights that we’ve never been able to do before,” Hunsicker said. “This is an exciting opportunity and advancement for our company and our customers!”

Learn about how SAP and Accenture are elevating digital customer experiences with Project Elevate. Watch the SAPPHIRE NOW replay and read the press release.


Frank Hughes

About Frank Hughes

Frank Hughes is a contributing writer for SAP Global Partner Marketing. Hughes has been a contributing writer for multiple publications and has been a staff writer at The Washington Post, the Washington Times and the Tacoma News Tribune. He currently resides in Los Altos, CA.