Utilities: Change Your Perception of the Customer

Customers are no longer invisible ratepayers-they are partners in the success of the utility companies.
Published: Wed 02 Apr 2014

In the past, power and utility companies had very little interaction with customers. Other than billing and service areas, the relationship was limited. However, with new technology and the introduction of the smart grid, this relationship is undergoing major change.

Interactive relationship

The relationship is becoming a lot more interactive as consumers have increasing access to consumption information. This is now many more reasons for the consumer to communicate with the power provider. Deregulation has also given customers the power of choice. It is therefore essential that utilities keep them engaged and loyal.

This increased interest will benefit both parties as consumers begin to realize that they are able to lower their bills by participating in demand response programs for instance, and utilities get to stabilize the grid and improve energy efficiency levels.

We discussed recently how utilities should help customers grasp the transformation of the industry in our article, Utility Must Teach the Consumer to Engage since the collaboration and implementation of a customer-centric business model will benefit both sides.

Culture shift in the industry

To harness the power behind “big data”, utilities of the future should develop a flexible organizational structure and supporting business process. Utilities can use this data to advise customers about new products and service development, anticipate market needs, increase customer satisfaction and increase revenue.

While modernizing the grid will likely create new value for customers and utilities, the need for utilities to reshape themselves around the customers’ needs will grow.

Power and utilities companies should focus on creating a more collaborative type of customer relationship — one that puts customers at the centre of utilities’ business strategies.

New technology can enhance customer engagement

Utilities can use the smart grid to gain a more granular understanding of what motivates its customers- such as flexibility, billing options and lower costs. Successful companies will translate this knowledge into operational benefits.

The utility should assist its customers to grasp the various technological and operational changes that are underway and explore how a more collaborative relationship can benefit both sides. For instance, demand response has benefits for both consumers and utilities.

Effective communication is key

Capturing customer-centred opportunities requires the ability to deal with an influx of information — separating the noise from real insights that can help delight customers.

Customers generally want more control over how they consume energy and are willing to partner with their providers to make it happen. While cost savings remain the customer’s top priority, customers are often willing to make short-term investments that will save money in the long run. However, they want reassurance that their investments will pay off. It is up to the utility to use the many forms of communication to make this happen.

Utility companies understand the critical nature of getting closer to their customers. The difference will be where and how these companies choose to make investments in the necessary people, processes, technology and partnerships to implement a customer-centric model.

Customers of a successful utility are more likely to see the company as a valued service provider, not simply a distributor.

Further Reading:

PWC-The Remaking of Utilities [pdf]