While utility customer relationship management has been a simple, stable fee-for-services relationship in the past, utility services now stand to gain by transforming the utility customer relationship into one that is richer, more dynamic, and more technology driven.The relationship begs customization to the end-user, embracing her communication preferences and her interests, specifically tailored to her wants and needs. Achieving this goal requires the utility to know their customer – residential and commercial – to actually have a relationship.
The dictionary defines relationship as, “the way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected.” For utility services and customers, relationships exist on many levels, far beyond that simply of the utility to the person who pays the bills.
Relationships can exist between:
In the case of water utilities and districts, customers in low-supply areas offer a real opportunity for controlling demand with active, ongoing engagement based upon actual usage. Technology and communications are key between the utility and the customer to ensure adequate water supply.
In the United States, natural gas is the fuel for many power plants that generate electricity. Demand for gas spikes in winter months in cold climates, where homes and office buildings are fueled by gas, thereby creating the potential for higher electricity costs or outages in the electric grid. Working together with customers during these times, electric and gas utilities can create increased grid stability and reliability – but working together requires a relationship.
Exactly how do utilities create a meaningful relationship with customers today? Simply put, they build trust through communication and engagement and deliver customized experiences and solutions for their customers.
Utility services face market, regulatory, financial and technological incentives that require them to build stronger customer relationships. “Utilities across the U.S. are faced with the need to reduce costs to provide rate stability, while improving reliability and enhancing the overall customer experience,” begins a Utility Dive article from November 2017. The phenomenon isn’t limited to the United States though; “Everywhere in the industrialized world, the electric power and utilities sector finds itself pulled to economize and pushed to innovate…,” says a 2017 PwC article about power and utility trends.
A cursory assessment shows an apparent dilemma for utilities, but it may not be as difficult as it first appears. These goals of innovating while saving costs need not conflict. They can complement each other, but that only works if utility services adapt to changes with technological innovation that supports better customer communication and control, the PwC article notes.
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“Business customers are increasingly interested in managing their energy use patterns… [by] installing energy monitors to help gauge variations in consumption and predict future fuel requirements.” And businesses anticipate making large changes in their consumption. For example, Walmart and McDonalds hope to make 20% improvements in energy usage over 2010 levels by 2020. By the same year, “Procter & Gamble plans to power… its plants with 100 percent renewable energy.”
On the residential side, home owners are adopting an array of devices to handle this management for them. This bring-your-own-thermostat (BYOT) model may not lead to overnight, full-scale smart home conversions, but these devices make a difference. For example, 81% of households that have adopted smart thermostat technology have seen an improvement in heating. It is not surprising that 71% of UK energy consumers plan to have smart devices by 2020. As we'll discuss more later, it appears that there is a lot to gain by offering consumers more control — especially integrated control via phone.
The article concludes that, “To capitalize on this emerging market opportunity, [for municipal and cooperative utilities, to improve satisfaction in their customer base], utilities need to move beyond the old commodity-based model in which the primary goals were cost-effective supply acquisition, modernization of industrial process equipment, and total bill reduction.” Reliable and affordable supply are still important, but utilities, “now need to provide alternative generation sources, energy storage, equipment replacement, sensor-based energy monitoring systems, software-based data analytics, facilities management services, and the infrastructure to back it all up.” Water utilities face many of the same opportunities and threats and they should adapt in similar ways.
By providing these additional services, which they are well-situated to do, utility services can form and improve utility customer relationship management.
Especially on the residential side, customers do not often consider their relationship with their utility. When is the last time you experienced outstanding customer service (especially as a residential customer) that delighted you, made you admire, or made you talk about, your utility company? If it’s happened, it is unlikely that it is as recent or frequent as the joy you felt from your favorite retailer. In fact, the majority of utility customers only think of their utility when something goes wrong.
As long as things are working well, most customers expect a simple give-and-take relationship: utilities provide a service and consumers pay for that service. Utilities, however, need to transform this relationship to weather, or even exploit the opportunities inherent in, changing expectations, evolving technology disruptions and the resulting trends.
Third-party energy vendors, many with consumer technologies, have infiltrated the utility space and raised customer expectations. Customers have access to novel devices that leverage the Internet of Things, and they want to use them. Many of them also need help. This is a significant opportunity for forward-thinking utility services to improve utility customer relationship management.
Customers value fun, efficiency, convenience, access to data, and help changing their behaviors, and utilities can provide positive interactions with customers using data they already collect. It’s a win-win situation for both utilities and consumers because it helps utilities gather customer data that they can use to support satisfaction-building interactions that provide convenience and savings. This data also helps utilities improve services in other ways, or it can. A properly designed program will make the experience fun too. In short, the time has come for utilities to change from their traditional service model and to become more customer-focused.
It is more important today than ever before to deepen the level of engagement with consumers in order to keep up with changing technologies. Electric, water and gas industry-leading utilities identify and develop programs and services that engage their customers and foster deeper relationships.
First and foremost, utilities win when they actively seek to understand customers and what is important to them. Examples of opportunities for utilities to win include:
A one-size-fits-all approach no longer works when considering customer satisfaction – and electric, water and gas utilities have the opportunity to increase utility customer satisfaction.
Over the last few years, electric and gas utilities have increased satisfaction levels overall, yet in some areas results are falling. Leading utilities and water districts track satisfaction based upon topics such as:
It's impossible to please everyone, but utilities can definitely do better. Key lessons include pro-active two-way communications and customized communications.
Due to more-demanding customer expectations, it is critical for utilities to build strong relationships with their customers. One way a utility can do this is by consumer engagement that incentivizes them to get involved and exciting them to come back for more.
Communications, technology and personalization are the three key pillars of a high-performing utility customer engagement program.
It is becoming clearer that reaching the next level in energy savings will require an improved understanding of consumers’ behavior and better ways of engaging them.
Not all customers are the same; the range includes:
Utilities need to understand their attitudes toward energy efficiency and what incentivizes them to behave a certain way, or a way that the utility wants them to behave.
Understanding utility customers and knowing who your consumer is so you can personally tailor a platform best for them is the most ideal way.
Brilliency is a consumer engagement platform that helps utilities understand their audience and connect with them in a meaningful way. Brilliency is simple to use and allows consumers to better manage their home or business utility services. After an easy one-time setup, they use the app to see their consumption over time, learn strategies for improving energy efficiency, report an outage and connect to pay bills — one place for all their utilities right in the palm of their hand for the utility.
Brilliency helps you better understand your consumers. You can customize the interaction you have with them by using rewards-based incentives, getting information that matters to you; things like:
Brilliency also allows them to interact with consumers more easily, issue timely alerts, send energy savings tips, roll out new energy efficiency programs and communicate with them so they stay informed and happy. It all adds up to a better experience for the utility and the consumer.
Brilliency transforms the relationship between utilities and their commercial and residential consumers. Our cloud-based engagement platform increases energy efficiency and delivers behavioral demand response. Feedback loops with the consumer encourage learning, conservation and action through its game-based platform.