Experience with smart meter rollouts across the globe has found that to realize value and ultimately to maximize the return on investment, customers must be engaged not only to understand and accept that investment but also to participate in the new services that become available such as time-of-use tariffs, demand response programmes and smart home technology.
Though this is retrospectively self-evident, it is nevertheless a challenge to implement.
“With energy companies undertaking massive smart meter deployments expected to reach 1.1 billion installed meters by 2022, to date the investment planning has primarily been focused on operational benefits, such as using smart meter data to facilitate remote connections, improve meter-to-bill processing, improve outage detection and reduce technical losses,” comments Jon So, Senior Manager of Product Marketing, International at Opower. “The customer benefits of smart meter deployments have been largely absent in these planning conversations. Or if they were, they were never realized.”
By way of example, he cites the case of the state of Victoria in Australia, with a recent study from the Victoria Auditor-General finding that consumer value from the 2009 deployment was never realized and customers are still paying for the installations today. Pending a rule change by the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) to allow competition in smart meter services, Australian retailers may soon be expected to deliver value once again as the change would permit new smart meters to be installed in other states within the National Electricity Market as early as July 2017.
Growing customer expectations
Customers themselves also have rising expectations of engagement, says Mr So, who with Philip Lewis, Founder and CEO of VaasaETT and Thomas Mikkelsen, Partner at VaasaETT, will be presenting an Engerati webinar, Don’t leave your customers behind! Exploring the secrets to demonstrating smart meter value for customers.
“This is due in large part to their interactions with services provided in other industries, including telecommunications and banking, as well as leading consumer companies around the world, such as Amazon and Uber,” he says. “What makes a company like Amazon successful? Its ability to provide customers with personalized and targeted information, on an intuitive self-service platform. With smart meter data and customer engagement tool, utilities have the building blocks needed to have this same success.”
“Smart meters represent an opportunity for utilities to upgrade their customer experience by investing in personalized engagement platforms that allow them to deliver the right message to the right customer, through the right channel at the right time,” he continues. He cites a recent report from Accenture, ‘Delivering the New Energy Consumer Experience,’ which found that while 41% of consumers believe their digital experience with their energy providers is more difficult than with other types of providers, 93% reported they would like to learn more about smart meter functionalities. More specifically, they cited a desire for personalized advice on actions, products and services to reduce bills, as well as early notifications when the bill may be higher than normal.
Customer engagement plan
Mr So says Opower’s view is that a strategic long-term engagement plan is key for a successful smart grid programme. Research has shown that personalized customer engagement is extremely useful in improving smart meter awareness, acceptance and appreciation.
“Receiving a new smart meter is a tremendously important moment, and personalized customer engagement should begin even before a new smart meter is installed,” he says. “This positions the meter as a useful asset to the consumer, increases smart meter acceptance and begins developing an engaged customer base.”
Four-phase engagement strategy
Opower has devised a four-phase engagement strategy:
• Pre-deployment education: Before utilities begin the smart meter rollout process, they should prime customers and the community for the major investment. Through existing communication forums and channels, customers should be educated about the upcoming installations and the expected value. If the utility is doing a pilot programme, targeting tools will help them target smart meters to customers with historically high programme participation and satisfaction.
• Rollout campaign: The rollout process is a key opportunity for utilities to earn customer trust. As in the pre-deployment phase, utilities should send communications explaining the customer benefits of the installed meter. Additionally, communications with detailed FAQs and safety information will help to limit call centre calls by concerned customers.
• Post-installation engagement: During this phase, utilities have the opportunity to finally demonstrate the value of the recently installed meters. On outbound channels, utilities are able to send communications that give customers highly personalized usage information and advice. Additionally, smart meter data opens the door for new notification emails such as high bill alerts. Online, utilities can also present their customers with new AMI-driven insights, such as self-service tools to analyze daily usage patterns and estimated bill projections.
• Continuous value creation: Once customers are well-informed about their smart meters and the basic benefits have been demonstrated, utilities should begin exploring new ways to create customer value. These can include time-of-use rates and demand response programmes and as distributed generation grows in popularity, additional data streams can be integrated into customers’ online insights. For example, adding net metering information into a solar customers online experience has been effective for increasing customer satisfaction and decreasing confused calls.
“Installing a new smart meter is one of the most significant interactions that a utility has in the customer lifecycle,” concludes Mr So. “As customer expectations continue to rise, utilities and retailers should focus on transforming customer interactions into positive moments, starting before they even install the smart meter.”
To explore the secrets of demonstrating smart meter value to customers, register for the briefing.