Utility Industry Challenges Part 3: Customers Look to Utilities for Answers

Emilie Bolduc

In the first and second blog post of this series, I wrote of five trends driving complexity for utilities and their customers, and why customer satisfaction and engagement is more important than ever.

In this third and final post of the series, I want to address how the utility-customer relationship is changing. Accenture’s 2014 study on energy consumers states that more than 70 percent of customers say they want their energy providers to do more than just send them a bill every month – they want an engaged, trusted advisor.

Conserving energy is increasingly top-of-mind for utility customers in both the residential and commercial sectors. Smart & Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats, home energy management systems (HEMS) and building energy management systems (EMS) are giving residential and commercial customers detailed information on their energy use. Customers are increasingly looking to their utility for tailored solutions to help them save energy.

Many utility programs appropriately encourage their customers to replace their energy-consuming devices – be it lighting, a refrigerator, or an HVAC unit – with a more energy-efficient replacement. Once the customer acts on the information, more often than not, the engagement with the customer ends there. Many utilities rely on their customers to seek out information about their programs, when they could be engaging these customers about their next opportunity.

The next wave in customer engagement is providing customers with clear and tailored recommendations, driven by data analytics and smart-grid technology, to help them take the next step in their whole home or business energy efficiency journey. Data-driven analytics are a cost-effective way for utilities to identify and communicate hidden or upcoming savings opportunities to customers.

Here are a few scenarios in which a utility provides proactive, trusted information to its customer:

  • On a hot summer day the temperature is peaking, as is the energy demand. The utility sends a push notification to registered mobile devices, alerting customers to ways to stay cool without drastically increasing AC use.
  • A large industrial complex has several roof-top HVAC units in operation. Through smart grid and EMS technology, the utility identifies a unit that is starting to underperform. The utility alerts the customer to the problem and tailors the messaging to maintenance options, priming the customer for eventual replacement with a high-efficiency model.
  • A customer completes an online energy audit from her utility’s website. The energy audit identifies her home’s water heater is over 20 years old. The utility sends this customer a direct mail postcard or personalized email encouraging her to replace it with a more energy efficient model which will save her energy and money and her utility will provide a rebate to do so.

The next generation of energy utility programs are engaging customers differently, using data to help customers understand their energy use and to provide tailored recommendations for energy reduction. By using data-driven analytics and smart grid technology, utilities can personalize messaging to customers likely to make energy efficiency upgrades and to provide tailored recommendations, increasing the likelihood of participation, which reduces outreach and marketing costs. In turn, customers see the utility as a proactive energy partner rather than just a provider.

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