Utilities are Playing Catch-up with Online Document Formats

A review of major trends in the electric power sector found that electric utilities are rapidly becoming more focused on the customer, offering online content designed to reposition them as “trusted energy advisors” instead of just the local power company. In a major shift, they are increasingly tailoring their message to a younger generation who can barely remember a time without the Internet.

However, this transition and attention to customer experience is a relatively recent development. Historically, Utilities have been slow in responding to change. In large part, this is baked into the industry itself, which relies on massive, long-term infrastructure investments to generate revenue. Because Utilities are regulated monopolies with narrow profit margins, they naturally gravitate toward cautious, conservative business practices.

So the reigning philosophy has been, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.

That’s why most Utilities initially saw no advantage in creating the kind of web-based, self-serve portals that banks and retailers were setting up for their customers. But that eventually changed because, at some point, online customer service became the norm, and Utilities realized that consumers now expect to pay bills on the web in the same way they expect to get power from a wall socket. Faced with these strong customer expectations, Utilities have been forced to play catch-up online.

The introduction of choice to the utilities market is also driving engagement in a big way. Smart meters, distributed energy resources, and other new technologies have fundamentally altered service delivery, requiring Utilities to reach out and explain new features like time-of-use rate plans and electric car charging options.

In this more complicated service environment, Utilities are discovering that it’s in their best interests to proactively engage with customers to help them manage their energy consumption and understand their bills. For modern Utilities, it’s not enough to just keep the electricity, gas, and water flowing; they have to keep the information flowing, as well.

So the days of the “ratepayer” are long gone. There are only customers now—and these customers don’t want their parents’ utility company. They want to pay their bills online. They want mobile access to their accounts. They want transparency. In short, they expect to have the same kind of online relationship with their utility that they already enjoy with their bank, cell phone provider, ISP, and favorite retailers.

The Need for Accessible Content

In a world where people enjoy anywhere, anytime online access to information, Utilities cannot afford to double down on the customer communication tools of the past. They must look ahead, and start presenting customer-facing content on web, mobile, and social media platforms in a variety of formats that comply with accessibility regulations.

Electronic content is said to be accessible if it is formatted in such a way as to be readily understood by a disabled person using screen-reader software or some other assistive technology. The impact of web accessibility regulations varies from industry to industry, even as laws vary from state to state.

Utilities may be impacted by several different pieces of accessibility legislation at the state and federal levels, including:

  • Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act
  • State-level accessibility laws (“Little 508s”)
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

How individual Utilities are affected by these laws depends on where they’re located and who owns them, so municipal-, state-, and investor-owned Utilities may have differing obligations. The Public Utilities Commission for the state typically provides guidance around the relevance and obligations toward Accessibility and other legislation impacting public utility organizations.

Meeting Uncertainty with an Innovative Solution

In a piece entitled “Why US utilities should invest in innovation,” Utility Dive cited some of the more recent, unforeseen developments that have disrupted the Utilities industry, including the demand for renewable energy sources and the proliferation of rooftop solar panels.

The necessity of providing accessible content in a variety of online formats is another unexpected development that is challenging Utilities to keep up with customer demand. In this case, however, Utilities do not have to shoulder the burden of innovation because OpenText has already developed a solution that will help satisfy customer expectations and meet regulatory commitments.

The OpenText™ Automated Output Accessibility solution is the only enterprise PDF accessibility solution on the market for high-volume, template-driven documents. This unique software solution can dynamically transform electronic documents such as billing statements and customer letters into accessible PDFs, large print, or accessible HTML for mobile applications.

Fast, reliable, compliant, and affordable, OpenText Automated Output Accessibility solution can help Utilities improve customer experience, increase online adoption, save money on printed statements, and comply with accessibility regulations.

Meha Varier

Meha Varier is Product Marketing Director for OpenText’s Customer Experience Management division that offers a set of applications focused on delivering personalized content and engaging interactions along a continuous customer journey. With over 12 years of experience in product marketing and digital marketing at various enterprise software and digital companies, Meha brings extensive knowledge on how digital transformation drives customer experience and engagement.

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