Driving Effective Engagement with the Commercial Sector

Analytics will be key to attracting and retaining high value commercial customers.
Published: Fri 07 Mar 2014

In order to achieve higher customer satisfaction and deeper energy savings from the energy-intensive commercial industry, utilities need focus on improving their engagement strategies with this sector.

Advanced analytics

Advanced analytics is a great first step towards driving commercial customer engagement at scale. Through effective data analytics, utilities can target their commercial customers with customized information that they can act upon. These personal recommendations from the utility will be more effective than scraps of general energy-savings advice. This deeper insight will go a long way towards engaging commercial customers and will even motivate them to adopt targeted energy efficiency improvements that aim to deliver building energy savings, as well as improve the overall service and customer satisfaction.

A great example of effective analytics for the commercial sector is the use of FirstFuel Software. This enables the utility to analyze the efficiency opportunities of an entire commercial portfolio in one step instead of analyzing energy efficiency through a traditional “building-by-building” approach. By adopting this form of analysis using FirstFuel Software, utilities discovered that over 75% of all efficiency opportunities come from 25% of buildings.

Better planning and decision-making

This type of portfolio screening data can be very useful for utilities when developing energy efficiency programs for the commercial sector. Utilities can plan better as far as program budget and strategy is concerned. Decision-makers within the utility will be in a better position to formulate plans to improve programs and business models.

Effective analytics software helps to reduce unnecessary phone calls, emails, and field visits and audits. Now, efficiency sales representatives and account managers can focus more on prioritizing and targeting the commercial customers that will deliver the most efficiency savings.

When a utility couples this information with a detailed, customized audit (also delivered remotely through advanced analytics), utilities can engage these high-potential customers with specific measure-level recommendations to improve ventilation, lighting or pumps, for instance.

In addition to this, instead of blanketing the entire portfolio with efficiency program solicitations, utilities have the opportunity to deliver insight to every customer during the first interaction. Rather than interacting through monthly bills, a new form of deep, customer service-oriented engagement will develop.

This process also ensures that utilities do not bother customers who will not receive or provide significant benefit from efficiency improvements. Just as targeted insight drives higher customer service and engagement, using data analytics to determine which buildings or portfolios to pass over can be as significant to ensure prolonged customer satisfaction. This selection process also ensures that utilities spend their efficiency marketing funds more wisely.

Energy savings becomes a utility service

Both the utility and the commercial sector are after optimized energy efficiency. This is where the ESCO or energy service company business model can help both parties - it lowers the sector’s energy bills and improves energy efficiency and enhances customer engagement.

An ESCO is one of the most prominent business models when it comes to energy efficiency. Definitions vary from country to country, but ESCOs are generally differentiated from other firms offering energy services by the concept of performance-based contracting where the ESCO’s payment is directly linked to the amount of energy saved.

ESCO services include energy audits, energy management, supply of equipment or energy and energy services (process or space heat, lighting, etc.). ESCOs tend to guarantee savings for their clients, their profit is linked to the performance of a project, and they often arrange financing. In general, ESCO's develop, design, and finance energy efficiency projects; install and maintain the equipment installed; measure, monitor and verify the project’s savings; and assume the risk involved in the expected amount of savings .

ESCO’s provide their customers with energy services that they need to attain high energy efficiency.

Effective and cost-effective operational improvements

The right analytics capabilities can also be used regularly to identify simple, operational measures that can be carried out in order to attain quick or inexpensive results. These opportunities are often difficult to pinpoint through traditional on-site audits.

Often, over half of all efficiency opportunities come from operational improvements which result in little or no cost to the operators. With the commercial efficiency industry's being focused mostly on retrofits with potentially high returns but often large capital outlays, remote analytics can be used to reveal a new set of energy savings for customers.

These savings are often gained without complex financial decisions and involvement from third-party contractors. In most cases, paybacks are often instantaneous and customers can point to utilities as the source of valuable, easily implemented energy-saving measures. This will only serve to deepen engagement with the utility.

Incentives will drive deeper energy efficiency

Advanced energy analytics and improved utility customer engagement and service go hand-in-hand. These analytics capabilities can provide the types of insight that can drive and reinforce energy efficiency across the commercial sector.

As this sector becomes more receptive to these insights, the regulatory and overall incentives to drive deeper energy savings will become aligned across all major smart grid stakeholders. An engaged, aligned network of utilities, commercial customers and regulatory bodies that work toward improved communication will continue to identify new and dynamic savings opportunities and strategies to ensure all commercial building energy efficiency goals are achievable.