Changing the Customer’s Mindset

While technology is assisting the utility to transform from a traditional establishment to a modern one, it is up to the utility to help the customer change his or her mindset towards changing consumption levels.
Published: Fri 07 Feb 2014

Smart meters and in-home displays on their own have fairly discreet results and don’t always hit all the demographics that we need to hit in order to get a material impact on how energy is going to be utilized. The amount of energy that we save through those processes is less than 10%. Given the global energy crisis, this is insufficient.

In order to create a real material shift in how we use energy, there will have be some fundamental mindset changes in customers and utilities. It is now up to the utility to find ways in which to support their customers as they attempt to change their mindsets about their energy consumption levels. This is according to Mike Ballard, Senior Director Industry Strategy, Oracle Utilities, US in his presentation How To Achieve Simple, Substantial & Reliable Energy Efficiency Through Customer Engagement, at the 2013 European Utility Week.

Understanding the customer and the environment

Utilities are moving from a traditional utility model (highly transactional) to a highly sophisticated model. This is thanks to developments in digital solutions as it is driving a different type of relationship between the utility and the customer. In order to assist customers, you need to first understand them.

Today, customers expect to be empowered, inspired, recognised, rewarded, helped and served. This can be done through the various social channels such as email, retail stores, websites, mail, mobile, and call centres. However, it is also important to remember that sometimes customers want to be left alone. Mr Ballard says, “Utilities must be careful not to drive the customer in to a place where they don’t want to be naturally.”

Building trust

Utilities are looking to re-establish trust with their customer base. Without this relationship, very little will get done. As programmes, technology and the industry itself becomes more complex, it is essential to develop a robust relationship with the customer and gain trust in advance.

According to JDPower 2013 Consumer Engagement Study, 57 million customers worldwide used social media to engage with utilities by 2011. This is a move away from traditional letter and telephone methods of communication. The number is expected to rise to 624 million by end 2017. Research shows that a large number of customers are participating in 1-2 utility programs but there are those who still not participating even though they are aware.

Obstacles of customer engagement

The utility is faced with a number of obstacles when it comes to engaging effectively with its customers:

  • Customer trust-customer service is perceived to be poor

  • Government regulatory and media influence

  • Customer effort to traverse channels-this creates inconsistent experiences

  • Aging legacy CIS platforms built before complex real-time customer interactions were conceived

  • Institutional inertia and disjointed business and IT commitment

Learn from other industries

Utilities can learn from each other and from other industries by:

 

  • Sharing knowledge

  • Providing multi-channel self-service tools required to “cut the chord” to the customer

  • Actively seeking customer feedback, acting on it and communicating your actions

  • Shift from reactive to proactive

  • Review and refine

Creating the optimal customer engagement experience

Mr Ballard lists some key factors that will go a long way in attaining successful customer engagement:

1. A Smart cross channel brand that is consistent and trustworthy at all times, whatever the channel. The customer should be able to rely on the utility to serve.

2. Contextual Journeys - The utility must pay attention to a customer’s personal data in order to make the data from the utility relevant. The utility should understand the customer’s past, present and future plans. This will help the utility to deliver recommendations that are helpful and astute and non-invasive

3. Engaging self service - This will create helpful interactions with the consumer. This will avoid impatience or hard-selling.

4. Outbound precision - The utility must respect consumers’ privacy and understand preferences. Messages should be relevant and well-timed.

5. Mobility and location services - Regardless of a customer’s whereabouts, utility will anticipate what is best for the customer. The customer should have access to the utility at all times and through the preferred channel. Interaction should be made pleasant and invaluable.

6. Efficient customer support - Support must be organized, efficient and distinctive. Staff should be well-informed, and use up-to-date technology to resolve issues and provide updates.

7.Enduring loyalty - The utility should recognise the customer when goals are being met and they should be rewarded accordingly.

8. Social networking - Through social networking, consumers’ trust in the utility will be enhanced.

9. Compelling network - The brand should be liked. Despite various channels of communication, experience should be fresh, compelling and unmistakable.

The numbers speak for themselves

There are a number of success stories surrounding customer engagement. One such example is the program that NV Energy has adopted- a customer engagement program in which customers have access to software and associated energy savings in return for participating in demand response events. The program has boosted energy efficiency in its customers’ facilities, while providing significant peak load reductions for the utility. Through automated demand response solutions and increased customer engagement, NV Energy reduced peak HVAC power consumption in buildings by as much as 20 % on demand response event days. The program has significantly lowered on-going daily HVAC energy use for customers by 10 to 18 % ,compared to baseline.

Customer engagement in the commercial building sector holds great potential. The evidence comes from FirstFuel Software, which took a 60 million-square-foot sample of commercial buildings it had analyzed for large investor-owned utilities. That analysis found that over 75 % of all efficiency opportunities come from 25 % of buildings.This shows that there is great opportunity for effective customer engagement in the commercial sector.

Another example of successful customer engagement is reported by Opower, a new customer engagement platform serving the utility industry. It provides home energy reports which is apparently saving consumers “hundreds of millions of dollars” on their energy bills.

Holistic engagement is needed:

Mr Ballard points out that the utility needs to engage the customer better in order to change every day occurrences. Targeted and meaningful communication will help the utility and consumer to develop a robust relationship and consistent messages will also help to build trust.