Duke Energy is one of the largest, most successful utilities in the country, expanding rapidly as the energy sector inevitably evolves with its global realities.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based utility has five strategic priorities: transform the customer’s experience, modernize the grid, generate clean energy, expand the natural gas infrastructure, and engage with stakeholders and employees.

A few years ago, Duke Energy realized that simply delivering electricity and natural gas to its more than 9 million customers across six states was not enough, not in today’s world of intelligent enterprises.

Today, Duke Energy is the first U.S.-based utility that has adopted such an extensive customer priority. Foundational to transforming the customer experience, its Customer Connect Program is consolidating four legacy customer billing systems into one customer engagement platform in order to enable the universal experience that customers expect. The platform is focused on data and analytics, customer engagement, and meter-to-cash processes.

Duke Energy Gets to Know Its Customers

Accenture helps deliver on this vision and is working closely with Duke Energy to not only deliver new technical capabilities, but in fact get to know its customers. This enables Duke Energy to build a relationship, engage with, and empower their customers.

“When we first started talking about this, we shared with Duke Energy, that a lot of these transformations are like a heart transplant — you take out the heart, put in a new one, make sure it is still beating at the end, and move on,” said Dondi Schneider, managing director in Accenture’s Utilities practice, who was attending the annual Accenture SAP Leadership Council in South Beach.

“This is really the first one in quite some time where we are not just looking to transform the business, but also to transform the customer experience and the relationship that Duke Energy has with customers,” said Schneider. “Duke Energy uses an ecosystem of measurement tools for understanding customer’s needs and expectations. We have implemented SAP S/4HANA, SAP Marketing, SAP Commerce Cloud, and SAP for Utilities because we figured out years ago that customers are not comparing two utilities. Your utilities customer is comparing your utility to their other service providers – like their cell phone company or cable provider – that you interact with on a monthly basis.”

“As we implemented SAP S/4HANA as part of our very first release, we can pull all the data together and correlate it,” said Retha Hunsicker, vice president of Customer Connect Solutions at Duke Energy. “We were able to take survey data and operational data then merge it in ways we have not been able to do before.”

This data is priceless, Duke Energy realized, and could change the way in which the company prioritized customer initiatives, informed future service design, and influence how it conducted its business.

SAP has made significant strides to expand on this very concept. In January of this year, it acquired Qualtrics, a company that is the pioneer of experience data in the software industry. The acquisition allows SAP and Accenture to market an entirely new category: experience data (X-data) and operational data (O-data), or X+O data.

“If you think about the complementary nature here, for over 40 years SAP has been the custodian of the operational data organizations – so we call that O-data,” said Adaire Fox-Martin, member of the Executive Board of SAP SE. “Qualtrics has been collecting experience data, X-data, for a number of years. The O-data actually tells you what happened and when it happened. The X-data tells you why it happened.”

What Duke Energy discovered, with the help of surveys that started in 2018, was that the company was spending a lot of time worrying about things that did not necessarily matter to its customers. They just didn’t know it. The information, obtained digitally, is helping Duke Energy trim out the inefficiencies and focus its resources accordingly.

“Generally speaking, we had a view that we needed every channel to be the same, and that customers value the same functionality in every channel. Consequently, we tried to be perfect at everything,” Hunsicker said. “And what we have found out is that is not the case.”

“There are some interactions with customers that mean much more than others, so being perfect at everything isn’t the benchmark. Being flawless at the things that matter to customers is what is important. Those moments that matter most are moves, billing, and payment. Every customer receives a bill, and every customer makes a payment. They want it to be easy with no surprises, and to be able to take action on their terms, whenever they choose.”

Duke Energy is making the needed changes for its customers, prioritizing based on customer feedback and concentrating on data, which turns interactions into positive, meaningful moments for customers.

The company also discovered another byproduct of the surveys. Duke Energy could find strengths and weaknesses across its six states, enabling the identification of best practices and streamline processes. Sharing the customers’ perceptions along with specific information about their actual experience is helping make decision-makers better, more educated managers leveraging customer expectations and experiences.

“Now,” Hunsicker said, “we have the ability to look at the granular data and gather insights that we’ve never been able to do before. This is an exciting opportunity and advancement for our company and our customers!”

Learn more about how SAP and Accenture are elevating digital customer experiences with Project Elevate:

Frank Hughes is a Silicon Valley-based freelance writer and editor covering the tech industry for SAP.