A Successful Smart Meter Deployment Relies on Effective Customer Engagement

In order to realize the full value of smart meters, utilities also need to establish ongoing customer participation.
Published: Fri 06 Feb 2015

The number of smart meter deployments across Europe are on the increase- by 2020, there will be close to 200 million smart meter installations across the region. The large-scale rollout does not come cheap and a great deal of time is being spent on this investment.

But, the question is, will utilities and consumers truly harness the benefits that the smart meter has to offer?

Opower believes that utilities should be paying more attention to customer engagement since it has been proven to be central to the success or failure of many smart meter deployments worldwide. The path needs to be paved for widespread customer adoption, with ‘opt in’ to smart meter-power programmes taking place at scale, and customers gaining more active control of their energy consumption behaviour.

Retailers and distributors have much to gain

But is Europe’s electricity industry prepared for this level of engagement in order to gain a higher level of value from the deployments?

According to Opower’s John Webster, VP Marketing & Strategy and Emily Hallet, Solution Director, EMEA, who will be presenting Engerati’s upcoming webinar, Don’t Leave Your Customers Behind – Learn how to Unlock Smart Meter Value for Consumers, both retailers and distributors have much to gain from the smart meter rollout. The conversations and conferences they participate in, indicate that stakeholders recognize the consumer engagement imperative.

However, in most of Europe, retailers do not currently have access to the same energy usage data that distributors have and they therefore cannot use this data readily to build improved customer relationships. It is therefore essential that both parties have access to this smart meter data if Europe is to realize the full industry and societal benefits of the rollout.

A successful smart meter programme adds value

Webster and Hallet suggest that utilities develop a smart meter programme in order to help add value to the smart meter data.

They say that the goal of the smart meter programme should be to transform consumption data into meaningful information for both the utility and its customers - and critically, to ensure both parties realize value in doing so.

Many smart meter programmes have initially focused on the analytics alone, and ended up presenting interesting data to customers but driving limited results or value.

The webinar speakers point to an instance where a utility has invested in a smart meter programme focusing primarily on using in-home devices to drive energy efficiency or demand response results. Unfortunately very few customers opted into the programme and not many understood how to take specific action from the data shown on their device.

“Limiting ourselves to device-centric programmes will result in failure to engage and reduce our ability to create customer value at scale,” they point out.

A well-run smart meter programme will see customers benefit from greater transparency and control of their energy spending as well as more accurate billing. Utilities should benefit from these customer-centric outcomes as well, as happier, well-served customers prove more loyal and less expensive to serve.

Of course, there are substantial operational savings that utilities can realize as well around grid optimization, avoided meter readings, etc. and readying the grid for the challenges of renewables integration.

Designing the successful smart meter programme

Having worked with more than 95 utilities around the world, Opower have come up with a few common best practices that they see underpinning every successful consumer engagement strategy within a smart meter deployment. Four key best practices that utilities should focus on are:

  • Focus on delivering customers’ true, actionable insights, not just data

  • Ensure each and every communication is personalized with the smart energy usage insights of the customer

  • Focus on using smart meter data to support proactive and relevant communications - according to an Accenture study, the average European energy consumer thinks about their energy supplier for only 9 minutes a year - utilities need to be there with proactive and personalized.

  • Use smart data to show real savings - with or without mandated energy efficiency goals. By providing consumers with personalized information as to how to save energy and showing them the results of those actions is one of the most effective ways to build a more trusted relationship between utility and customer.

Global smart meter programmes and strategies can vary considerably - in some markets, utilities are vertically integrated, in others unbundled across generation, distribution and retail, and in some the business case focuses on theft reduction, others it is on energy efficiency and in others customer loyalty and satisfaction. With this in mind, any direct comparison must be evaluated.

One of the biggest and common themes that have emerged from deployments around the globe, is the importance of active customer engagement, ongoing customer participation, and continued demonstration of customer value - all core tenants of a successful programme which will be the focus of the upcoming webinar.

According to the speakers, many utilities are working hard to bring customers to the centre of the rollout, and to the core of their business cases. However, there are still some utilities that continue to focus on the operational benefits exclusively. During the webinar, a few examples will be drawn upon for illustration.

Closing the gap between expectations and performance of smart meter rollouts

The most critical expectations to meet are those of customers, who are ultimately paying the bill for smart meters.

Opower finds that by proactively reaching out to customers with tools and insights that help them save has consistently and substantially improved their satisfaction with smart meters, and their utilities as a result. It is important that utilities focus on offering demonstrable customer value and continue do so on a continued basis, not just during the initial months after a customer is activated with a smart meter.

Say the speakers, “It’s critical that we get it right, and that we don’t leave consumers behind. We invite utilities to learn from their peers who have already been through these programmes from around the world - and to learn how consumer engagement excellence is the key to achieving the value both the industry and the customers themselves are looking for from this massive infrastructure project.”