Squeezed by falling profits, technology disruption and outside competitors targeting their customers, energy providers face the additional challenge of falling short of consumers’ expectations for digital channels and personalised experiences, according to the latest edition of the annual New Energy Consumer research by Accenture Ireland. What’s more, Irish customers are calling out for a tailored, fun and 24-7 service, and believe that artificial intelligence is a way to achieve this.

Consumer demand for digital

The survey of 500 Irish energy consumers found that one-third (33%) say their provider’s digital channels (websites and mobile applications) could not meet their online requests and they had to contact a live agent. What’s more, over a quarter say they’re not aware of any digital channels being on offer from their provider (28%). That being said; if it was on offer, the majority of those surveyed would be willing to go digital-only and switch to a wholly online service in exchange for a discount on their bill (66%).

Ready for AI

The research also shows that artificial intelligence (AI) is one area that could pique consumer interest in digital. A significant nine in 10 (88%) Irish customers confirmed that they are ready to engage with a ‘digital agent’ (i.e. artificial intelligence via phone or chat) to manage their energy usage and payment. Irish consumers expressed a significant interest in communicating via AI when it comes to learning about new products (76%), making payments (72%), asking questions about their bill (59%) and making complaints (55%). Key to AI adoption amongst Irish consumers would be 24-7 availability (62%), ease of use (59%), and fast resolution (55%). One in 10 (12%) would be more likely to use a digital agent if it was a fun experience.

“Energy providers are under more pressure than ever to rotate toward new, integrated end-consumer solutions and rapidly launch new products and digital services,” said Hilary O’Meara, Managing Director of Resources at Accenture Ireland. “They need to shift from decades of long planning cycles and rigid processes to create a new approach that responds quickly to call-outs from customers, who are increasingly using digital channels, services, and platforms – before their more agile, digital-native competitors beat them to it.”

“Providers must enable a customer operating model that puts people and customers at the heart of product and experience design. More digital engagement is necessary for energy providers to grow new revenue streams, build customer loyalty and in deregulated markets position against price-only plays. Artificial intelligence is one pertinent example of this and the willingness amongst Irish customers to use digital agents demonstrates how the rules of engagement are changing,” said O’Meara.

The need for personalisation

For Irish consumers who had interacted with their energy providers via digital channels over the past 12 months, digital dissatisfaction stemmed from issues like having trouble finding information on energy providers’ websites (40 percent). Consumers also said these sites took too long to load (37 percent) and were not fun or interesting to use (30 percent). Personalisation is also an issue, with 29% maintaining that the web channels weren’t tailored to their experience and 27% claiming the sites didn’t have the information or features they needed. Linked to this, products that are tailored to individual needs and preferences were identified as the top incentive that would encourage Irish customers to sign up for more services (81%).

Most consumers think that traditional energy providers are best positioned overall to help them manage their energy usage. However, the boundaries are blurring and the research indicates that alternative providers are now seen by Irish customers as well positioned to help them understand and manage their energy consumption. These providers include home appliance manufacturers and general technology companies, which were identified as well positioned to offer these services by 57% and 46% of respondents respectively.