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Utilities CX

The Pace of the Race Increases for Digital Transformation

The Data Is In: Utility Brands Must Return to a Focus on Digital Transformation

COVID-19 caused many brands to pause their traditional outreach marketing programs during the months of March and April 2020, amidst uncertainty. Instead most brands flooded consumer inboxes with safety and health messages, disrupting the normal digital dialogue with their customers. Many of our clients, especially in utilities, didn't know what to make of this disruption or how to re-engage with the consumers. No longer business as usual, many utility companies retreated from digital engagement entirely while they figured out the new normal.  However, the wait time for utility brands is over.  Data emerging from consumer surveys and brand practices indicates that COVID-19 has increased the pace of the race towards digital transformation, and many brands will be racing hard to catch up in days to come.

Just examine your own personal inbox over the last two weeks. Though brand marketing emails declined in mid-March and instead took a turn towards brand messaging affirming health and safety, most brands returned to active engagement by late March as they shifted to delivery, curbside pick-up, or giving special online incentives. Most of us probably see our inboxes returning to about the same daily volume of email offers and reminder incentives as we received before the pandemic, though the tone and topics have changed to match the shelter and quarantine conditions.  We aren’t receiving as many hotel and vacation offers, but virtually every brand has adapted their content and topics to return to full customer engagement.

The recent Prosper Insights and Analytics April 1-6 survey of over 8200 consumers indicates that COVID-19 and shelter-in-place restrictions have had a significant impact on consumer behavior, which promises equally dramatic adjustments for brands at work on digital transformation.

For example, 71% of people in the age group of 18 years and older are practicing social distancing, with seniors adapting most substantially at 84.7%. This behavior has enjoyed more than 6 weeks of reinforcement, which goes on to suggest that most people, especially seniors, will be reluctant to return to business as usual, when it comes to bricks and mortar shopping. Anecdotal reports from states like Texas and Georgia suggest that their attempts to reopen the economy have been met with very low turnout by consumers, so far. That fear of close contact doesn't look ready to retire anytime soon, and hence the pace of digital engagement and eCommerce shopping has increased. This also means the brands, which had paused or slowed down their digital outreach, will now need to race ahead to catch up.

Consumer confidence dipped quite substantially in April, as COVID-19 conditions persisted.

In March, 53.6% of consumers reported being confident or very confident in the economy, but those reports dipped to just 32% in April, showing the effects of extended uncertainty about the virus.

That sentiment corresponds with the shift in topic and tone for the brands that maintained their digital outreach, and dripped news of safety measures, delivery options, and new eCommerce programs into their customers’ inboxes. Social ad placement enjoyed a dramatic increased in exposure and engagement as consumers depended on social media to stay connected to their families, friends and communities. Brands that weren't already leveraging social media and social campaigns now had to ramp up quickly to attract attention from a larger audience.

Retail took a massive hit according to the April survey results, with 72% of the concerned consumers reporting lesser retail shopping, compared to just 23.9% in March.

Where bricks and mortar shopping slid, eCommerce exploded. Just look to Amazon and Walmart’s reports of their online sales in March and April. More than double the number of concerned consumers in the April survey reported shopping online than in March, 37% versus just 17.7%, and that trend may very well become a habit now, as 30% of those consumers plan to shop more online in the future. At the same time, senior citizens too have been forced to make that switch, with 28.3% of consumers above the age of 65, saying that they plan to increase their online shopping in the future.

Brands that embraced digital transformation, personalized and adjusted their tone, and responded to their customers concerns not only have returned to their normal pace of digital engagement, but it's also very likely that they will be the winners in the coming weeks and months, as consumers predominately seek safety and convenience in their economic decisions. Brands that understandably paused email and digital outreach initially need to get their foot off of the brake and amplify their efforts in a race to catch up online.  And, any brand already behind in digital transformation should redouble its efforts and get off the sidelines. The pace of this race has increased permanently, and no brand would want to be left behind.

ibex Digital delivers solutions for digital customer engagement, digital marketing and ecommerce to brands all over the globe. We've counseled our clients to adjust the tone and topic of their digital outreach campaigns, and to accelerate the pace of their digital transformation programs, as customers show no sign of returning to traditional engagement and shopping behaviors. There's never been a better time to initiate plans for email, display, and social engagement programs with customers. So we advise our clients to stretch their goals, assess their campaign strategy, and accelerate the pace of their activities.

For help on starting or continuing your digital transformation effort, visit

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