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A behavioral science approach to utility customer engagement 

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The amount owed to utility companies has doubled for around one out of every six homes across the US since the pre-pandemic era. With rising household expenses and disruptions to supply chains – Bloomberg anticipates that this is just the tipping point.  

For utility service providers, there was a moratorium on shutoffs during the pandemic, which has led many to embrace this as a practice permanently. However, the rising costs also have implications for your business and your bottom line, and finding ways to recover some of that revenue is likely on your to-do list. This starts by understanding your customer, which requires a different approach to customer engagement – one that’s based on behavioral science, the study of decision-making. 

What is behavioral science?

Behavioral science is a complex and interdisciplinary field that encompasses a variety of social sciences, including psychology, sociology, social and cultural anthropology, economics, neuroscience, and political science. Despite our self-perception that we are logical and rational beings, our decisions are often influenced by emotions, contextual factors, and prior experiences. Our behavior is shaped by an intricate interplay of perceptions, attitudes, needs, biases, and individual circumstances. In the context of consumer behavior, understanding the scientific principles underlying customers’ reactions is vital to creating mutually beneficial interactions and gaining a competitive advantage. The first step towards achieving this is to gain a comprehensive understanding of the obstacles impeding customers’ engagement and decision-making. 

What are the barriers?

We know that consumers are busier than ever and have more demands of their time. Add to that the number of digital screens we access daily, and it’s easy to understand why we’re fatigued. Symend’s latest research shows that 64% of billpayers across the US and Canada are exhausted from all that screen time. 

These challenges mean that companies need to step up their game when it comes to supporting customers to really drive results. According to our report, 42% of people delay responding to messages from service providers because they don’t feel confident deciding. And when customers are behind on bills – a circumstance that has increased by 25%, since this time last year, and have surpassed pandemic levels – those barriers only get more pronounced. Almost half of all respondents (48%) feel anxious and overwhelmed when they get notifications from service providers, and that number jumps to 69% for those who are already behind on payments. 

So, how can you help your customers make better decisions while also improving your business outcomes? Hint: it involves empathy.

An empathetic customer engagement approach

The foundation of building long-term relationships with your customers is empathy. It’s about understanding your customers’ needs and circumstances and using that understanding to ease any negative emotions they might be feeling. By doing this, you can turn a negative experience into a positive one and strengthen the connection between your customers and your business. 

To effectively use empathy, you need to stay up to date with your customers’ changing needs, behaviors, and preferences. Here are some ways you can gain a deeper understanding of your customers: 

  • Look into research on what’s causing changes in behavior and preferences.
  • Conduct sentiment analysis based on the responses you get from your outreach efforts. 
  • Analyze and extract insights from patterns in customer behavior.

But let’s be real – making this happen isn’t always easy. You might still be figuring out how to use digital tools effectively, or maybe you’re not using your data in the best way possible. To really get this right, you need to have the right data sets for each customer and be able to adapt to their changing needs and preferences.  

The good news is that if you invest in understanding your customers, they will reward you with positive decisions and long-term loyalty. In fact, 84% of survey respondents want help from their service providers to more confidently make decisions but don’t feel supported currently. Through an empathetic approach that considers their behaviors, experiences and current circumstances, you will demonstrate genuine empathy and understanding required to make your customers feel supported. 

Whether you’re new to digital transformation or an experienced pro, adopting this mindset is crucial for enhancing engagement with your customers, and achieving better outcomes for both your customers and your company.  

For more content like this, please read Empathy: What’s missing from your customer engagement strategy.

Download our 2022 consumer report, The Great Shift in Billpayer Behavior, to discover more about what’s driving consumer behaviors. Find out what support service providers can offer customers to overcome the impact of exhaustion and uncertainty, and to engage with them more effectively.