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Companies who provide utilities—such as gas, electricity, and water—often face unique challenges. As they’re often the only choice for a given utility in a market, they are commonly seen as little more than commodity service providers, limiting consumers’ expectations and, sometimes, lowering the amount of perceived trust.

Our client, a major regional utilities company, wanted to transform their customers’ perceptions of them from a commodity service provider to a trusted partner. But, in order to do so, they first needed to know what customers expected from a ‘trusted partner’ and if customers would even allow them to assume this role.

C+R’s research team conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with a range of business decision-makers to uncover deep consumer insights and assess their willingness to allow our client to become a trusted partner. 

Problem

A major regional utilities company had created a new brand vision and strategy and wanted to receive feedback from their customers. Specifically, they were seeking to transform their relationship with customers from a ‘commodity service provider’ to a ‘trusted partner’. Customers often do not think too much about commodity service providers; such providers are often seen as replaceable and/or less-trusted.  They are also a monopoly in the market, further substantiating the skepticism that the utilities can be over-priced.

Our client wanted to learn how they might occupy a larger portion of their customers’ hearts and minds and ultimately build trust. Would their customers, including a significant percentage of business consumers, give them permission to take a greater role in providing utilities and become a trusted partner?

Result

The research team discovered that companies that are seen as ‘trusted partners’ are those who consistently deliver on expectations, are honest, and strive to be customer-focused and culturally responsible. Most of the business decision-makers interviewed were willing to give the utilities company permission to become more of a trusted partner—and to take on a bigger role in providing utilities to their businesses—if it meant the decision-makers could save money through reduced usage of the utility.

Solution

As part of a larger qualitative study, 12 in-depth interviews were conducted with decision-makers whose businesses received utilities from our utilities company client. These interviews were centered in two markets where our client provides utilities.

The decision-makers interviewed worked in a range of industries, including finance, real estate/property management, healthcare services, retail, warehousing, and textiles. Roles within their companies ranged from human resources manager, marketing manager, controller, and project manager to owners and vice presidents. The number of employees at each business ranged from less than 100 to around 50,000.

Consumer focus groups were also conducted as part of this study to capture the residential point of view.