• April 1, 2024
  • By Erik J. Martin, freelance writer and public relations expert

CRM in Utilities: Vertical Markets Spotlight

Article Featured Image

Whether it’s electricity, natural gas, water, or some other resource, running a utility can be a thankless job. Customers expect reliable service; prompt notification, updates, and restoration after an outage; and responsive customer service that addresses their concerns.

But players in this vertical often fall far short. Customer satisfaction with utility mobile apps and websites lags significantly behind other industries, according to J.D. Power, which found that customer satisfaction with utility digital experiences scored 594 on a 1,000-point scale, much lower than other verticals. Among digital channels, mobile apps score 60 points higher than mobile websites and 38 points higher than static websites; yet 27 percent of utilities do not even offer a mobile app.

Concerns loom large in the utilities industry across marketing, sales, and customer service, the three pillars of CRM.

“Marketing efforts can be hindered by regulatory restrictions and the difficulty of reaching target audiences effectively. In sales, the complex nature of utility products and services and the long sales cycles pose significant challenges. And customer service can be impacted by high call volume, managing service disruptions, and meeting customer expectations for timely support,” notes Erman Küplü, CEO of Analyzify. “These challenges are unique to the utilities industry due to their highly regulated nature, infrastructure requirements, and essential service status. Unlike other industries, utilities must navigate strict regulatory frameworks, manage complex infrastructure networks, and provide uninterrupted customer services, all presenting distinct complications.”

“Paired with the frustrated customers who missed an important phone call from their service provider, these challenges cause friction in business operations, delay services, and tarnish the relationship consumers have with these businesses,” Kevin McKenna, vice president of brand direct sales at First Orion, says.

Unfortunately, an amazing customer experience is not the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about interactions with utilities.

“This is no accident,” explains Beth Pfefferle, vice president of marketing at Redpoint Global. “With limited choice, utility customers are a captive audience, and utility companies have traditionally not been incentivized to deliver an exceptional customer experience. Consumers do have choices. Smart utility companies today recognize that, by catering to an individual customer’s preference, they can enhance customer experience and strengthen a profitable relationship.”

Consider that the energy sector faces significant hurdles today, ranging from aging infrastructure and rising costs to enhancing grid resilience and the shift toward clean energy. Enhancing customer service, field service, and marketing capabilities will play a crucial role going forward.

“Ten or 15 years ago, customers talked to their utility only when they needed to set up service or if service was interrupted. Today, the customer dynamic has changed a lot,” says Mark Wilkinson, senior vice president of the Utility Solutions Group at Ibex Digital. “Utilities understand the role the customer plays in their business and aspire to greater customer-centric operations. Utilities must continue to adapt to their customers’ new expectations for more personalized service, new products and services, and insights or advice on how to get the most out of their services.”

Tim Simpson, senior digital marketing manager at ScaleNorth, points out another obvious hindrance: Utilities are typically considered a need vs. a want product.

“This changes the marketing landscape to focus less on direct consumer sales and more on reputation management and reliability of service. Considering that many utility providers are mandated at the local level, it’s prudent for them to focus marketing on keeping their existing customers satisfied,” he says.


Understanding these obstacles is crucial for thriving and expanding in the utilities space.

“Addressing these challenges is critical for utility companies to maintain customer satisfaction, ensure regulatory compliance, and drive business growth. Utility companies can increase customer engagement, loyalty, and retention by improving marketing efforts, streamlining sales processes, and enhancing customer service experiences,” Küplü suggests.

Adding to the burden for utilities is that because they’ve lacked the incentive to treat each customer as a unique individual, marketing and customer service efforts have fallen behind in prioritizing personalized customer care.

“But even though consumer choice may be more limited, there is still ample opportunity to maximize customer profit,” Pfefferle states. “Consider a customer who wants to purchase and set up an [electric vehicle] charging station. An electric power supplier that helps educate the customer about all the important decisions, like what type to buy, rate plans, and best time to charge, stands to benefit.”

Another distinguishing factor is the sheer number of customers served. A single utility can serve hundreds of thousands or millions of customers in one area.

“This is why utilities need best-in-class CRM systems to manage the high volume of calls, disputes, payments, inquiries, and other communications from clients,” Simpson insists.

Additionally, “utilities will have to learn from other industries about customer segmentation, personalized outreach, social marketing, digital self-service, and all the other attributes customers now expect,” Wilkinson adds.


Modern CRM resources stand as powerful tools to resolve these troublesome scenarios, offering a diverse set of solutions specifically tailored for the utilities vertical.

“CRM tools allow utilities to leverage customer data for enhancing marketing, sales, and customer service strategies,” Simpson says. “By building and utilizing comprehensive customer profiles, they can gain valuable insights into personalizing messaging and interactions, while automating processes and standardizing workflows can ensure swift response times and efficient issue resolution, ultimately leading to heightened customer satisfaction and loyalty.”

Küplü agrees, noting that many issues can be addressed by “centralizing customer data, automating marketing campaigns, tracking sales pipelines, and enhancing customer service interactions.” CRM, he adds, “enables utilities to understand customer needs better, personalize communications, and streamline processes across marketing, sales, and customer service.”

Leading CRM solutions favored by experts include these:

  • Marketing: Marketo, Salesforce Marketing Cloud, and HubSpot to segment customers, automate email campaigns, and monitor engagement metrics.
  • Sales: Zoho CRM and Salesforce Sales Cloud, for customer management, sales projections, performance evaluations, and to oversee leads, monitor interactions, and predict sales pipelines.
  • Customer service: Freshdesk, Zendesk, ServiceNow, and Salesforce Energy & Utilities Cloud to simplify ticket management, offer self-service, and monitor customer satisfaction metrics.

“None of this vertical’s tectonic challenges can be solved with legacy processes and technology,” cautions Kelly James, senior vice president and general manager of energy and utilities at Salesforce. “Traditional utility platforms and systems are old, rigid, and outdated. To succeed, utilities have to modernize their operations. With the right CRM and energy relationship tools, powered by enterprise data and insights, utilities can scale clean energy adoption, build better customer and stakeholder relationships, improve service and emergency response, and much more.”

“It’s the perfect time to make investments in CRM solutions, with some customer information systems making it easier to integrate to most robust and trusted platforms, adding some of the most common features to their own platforms, or systems integrators helping utilities with packages to bridge the technology gaps,” Wilkinson recommends. “Utilities that wait to add CRM capabilities to their CIS stacks risk allowing third parties to further disintermediate the connection between them and their customers.”

McKenna adds that branded calling can be an additional arrow in utilities’ quivers.

“With branded calling, utilities can create unique display names, protect their phone calls from impersonators, and get in-depth analytics. These solutions ensure that consumers don’t miss a utility outage alert, appointment reminder, payment notice, or appointment update,” McKenna says. “Realistically, a service-oriented utility can expect a positive return on investment for just about any use case, which can lead to new sales, increased customer loyalty, and more operational savings.”

It’s crucial to maintain realistic expectations and exercise patience throughout this process, though.

“Transitioning to a new CRM and industry cloud can drive meaningful change in key business areas. It’s important to bring in change agents and engage line employees in the process so they are on board with the transition and can even help drive change,” James advises.

Küplü agrees. “While upfront investments and adjustments may be required, the long-term benefits in improved efficiency, customer satisfaction, and revenue growth justify the investment,” he says.

Additionally, give thought to integrating legacy systems, apps, and data.

“This is where integration technologies that simplify complex systems and data connections can play a critical role in helping you quickly start to see value,” James adds. “You should also look for an experienced implementation partner to help you get up and running faster and more smoothly.”

Wilkinson always cautions utility clients to expect approvals and integrations to take longer than expected given the sensitivity to privacy and regulatory scrutiny inherent in the utility space.

“For utilities, key stakeholders have been moving toward customer-centricity for a decade but haven’t fully embraced the value and reach of CRM solutions,” he continues. “We recommend starting with a lot of customer-centric user stories.

“That way, you’re telling the strategy story through the lens of benefits to the customer, so stakeholders see a clear connection,” Wilkinson explains.

Above all, prepare for many bumps in the road along the way.

“However, if you monitor, adapt, and improve as you go, these fast fails or hiccups will turn into extremely valuable insights for optimization opportunities,” Simpson says. 

Erik J. Martin is a Chicago area-based freelance writer and public relations expert whose articles have been featured in AARP The MagazineReader’s DigestThe Costco Connection, and other publications. He often writes on topics related to real estate, business, technology, healthcare, insurance, and entertainment. He also publishes several blogs, including martinspiration.com and cineversegroup.com.

CRM Covers
for qualified subscribers
Subscribe Now Current Issue Past Issues
Buyer's Guide Companies Mentioned