With appropriate planning, a program launch can serve as more than just an opportunity to meet energy or other goals. It is also a chance for organizations to start building a positive reputation for excellent customer service. Customer service is important because it can support the success of a business through long term trust-based relationships. With outstanding customer service, loyal repeat customers can also increase your business through referrals, case studies, and positive reviews. Since an effective program launch can have a major impact on an organization’s image, it is important to develop high quality customer service practices when rolling out your program portfolio.

Plan the connection with customers 

Administrators may be launching portfolios that include customer-facing and ratepayer-funded programs. Each program is an opportunity for administrators to impact their image with customers or ratepayers. By considering each program as a customer service opportunity, administrators have a valuable opportunity to utilize program launch to develop long-term relationships with their customers.

It is important for administrators to develop a plan on how to effectively engage and provide solutions to customers. Customers are typically focused on their own businesses and do not have ample time for unnecessary back and forth conversations with program administrators. A well-developed customer engagement strategy will allow customers to eagerly participate in the program with minimal interruption to their daily business.

Why is this customer service approach important?

As one consumer survey found, consumers spend an average 8 minutes a year interacting online with their utility. Larger accounts often have similarly rare encounters. That makes a program launch an excellent opportunity to impact customer service. After all, many programs are about offering access to free technical support or other incentives, making this easy marketing for utilities or other administrators.

A Strategic Account Management Association report showed that few strategic account executives found their programs were “functional and effective” (14%), yet nearly three-quarters of the account managers surveyed reported that customer relationships had been “repaired or saved” because of these programs. Taking a customer service-oriented approach to program launch can secure a relationship that may be at risk of moving to another service provider.

To leverage this customer service opportunity, administrators should take time when selecting and reviewing programs to include within a given portfolio that any messaging or marketing being used within the program fits the organization’s broader brand. Consider the implications to the organization in running this type of portfolio, and how it could be used to the organization’s advantage.

Provide clear directions for launch 

To pave the way for positive interactions, administrators should develop a program launch that includes a strong framework with clear goals and an emphasis for providing excellent customer service.  By incorporating program launch plans into the program development phase, administrators can provide program implementers with clear instruction. The alternative—having implementers develop their own program launch plan from scratch—allows room for errors that could turn away  customers, in addition to potentially unnecessary implementation delays.

The program launch plan should include details on developing transparent program procedures and policies and include any forms and agreements that customers will need to sign. For implementers, the launch plan should outline any potential IT system training needed and step-by-step instructions on how to roll out the program and manage reporting. Clear launch plans will allow for smooth implementation and have customers excited to work with program implementers.

Manage program impact and expectations 

It is important that portfolio administrators include information within each program’s launch plan as to how implementers should manage customer expectations. If customer service expectations are not managed properly in advance, an implementer may make promises to customers that can’t be delivered. As a result, a utility that is already having customer service issues may find themselves in a worse situation. On the other hand, an account manager that must discuss a rate increase with a large account may find that an energy efficiency program provides an opportunity to balance the necessary cost escalation with a mutually beneficial energy savings investment.  The most effective programs will be mutually beneficial for all parties, but this is only possible when administrators prioritize strong customer relationships.

It is also important to remember that these customer relationships are likely to look different across different programs within a given portfolio. An agricultural client will have different priorities than a local government client where the same goes for marketing to large pools of customers versus a small pool of key accounts. Understanding the potential impacts of each program for each type of customer will help ensure customer buy-in and increased participation.

This is one more area where expert portfolio management can help. If you’re looking for a partner to help you reach your portfolio goals, contact Lincus today.