Customer engagement

Utility customers – improving engagement through technology

The cloud with offerings as a service is fundamental to the agile and innovative utility of the future.
Published: Thu 31 Aug 2017

In an era of increasing choice for customers in terms of how and from whom they source their energy supply, customer engagement and satisfaction rank among key customer service goals for utility executives.

Indeed, according to a study by Navigant Research, increasing customer satisfaction was ranked by utility executives as the top goal, ranking above other priorities like cost reduction and increasing revenue.

Engerati contends that this level of customer engagement and service delivery can only be achieved if underpinned by a cloud and software as a service (SaaS) approach.

On this basis, we have identified three key impact areas of customer engagement platforms: enabling day-to-day analytics and insights on customers, the delivery of new services such as energy efficiency and demand response, and enhancing customer retention and acquisition.

In a recent In Focus session, Engerati and industry experts investigated these impact areas in depth.

Cloud platform for utilities

For Miguel Gaspar Silva, Industry Director EMEA at SAP, the starting point for the discussion is ‘innovation’.

“Innovation is the driver for the growth of utilities in the energy transformation. They need to be agile and fast to adapt in this more complex environment, which they cannot do in a model of regulatory constraints and established business practices.”

As examples of how innovation is being promoted, he cites two projects with major utility participation under way with EU H2020 funding support.

Flexiciency is focused on developing a pan-European marketplace for energy services, while InteGrid is looking at how market players can participate in the energy market.

These projects are being built on the digitalisation of utilities and the integration of IT and OT – and this is where the cloud comes in, enabling access to a state of the art solution that allows the agility and full connectivity that is required between the OT and IT.

Silva says the vision of SAP is a ‘Cloud for Energy’ platform which will “combine the world of energy with the world of customers”.

“The energy transformation is about providing full visibility to customers on consumption, market prices, opportunities for energy efficiency, etc. Combining asset and business tools on the platform to offer energy centric processes will allow utilities to be agile with real time processing of data from smart meters.”

On top of this can be added additional utility specific applications, such as predictive maintenance and service.

New products and services

André Pinho, Solutions Architect EMEA at customer engagement software provider FirstFuel, discusses the selling of non-commodity products and services to the business consumer market.

“This market has some unique challenges, with many different types and sizes of businesses and the need to interact with people with very different levels of knowledge,” Pinho points out.

But it is a significant market for customer engagement, he states. For example, the revenue growth potential is 60% with only just over one-third believing their utility offers them targeted solutions and a similar number trusting the utility to help them manage their energy costs.

Pinho says that the challenges for utilities are to know what these customers want and to scale up their engagement to lower the typical utility-customer one-on-one high service costs.

FirstFuel’s approach is based on using analytics to enable better targetting of customers through segmentation and prioritisation of those with the highest value and to develop strategies for those customers.

“Outcomes for utilities are new sources of revenue, reduced cost to serve and greater customer satisfaction,” says Pinho.

As an example, he cites a project with Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) and services company ICF to engage their approximately 3,000 hardest to reach customers.  Outcomes included a 60% project application completion, a doubling in the programme conversion rates, 30% reduction in time to project completion and an average 92% customer satisfaction rating.

Engaging business customers

In a companion webinar, Jeff Jerome, Product Manager C&I Programmes at BGE, joins FirstFuel’s VP Marketing & Strategy Indran Ratnathican and Wytse Kaastra, MD Energy Consumer Services for Europe, Africa & Latin America at Accenture, to offer some insights and tips on how to engage with business customers.

Jerome explains that the challenge has been with the small and medium size businesses, rather than the largest companies which have in-house staff focused on energy issues. Previously BGE approached these on a largely random basis but the deployment of smart metering has provided the data to better identify and engage with customers who could benefit from energy efficiency initiatives.

“With this new data, we can now engage all customers with targeted, actionable insights,” says Jerome.

He comments that in BGE’s ‘Building tune-up’ initiative, small changes such as adjusting the building control sensors or modifying the control programme can lead to savings of as much as 20% in energy use.

Kaastra says that the business segment is also a challenge in Europe, but utilities are starting to invest in it.

“There is a need to create more positive engagement with business customers and to provide more value than simply a bill. Many business customers now have smart meters so there is a lot of data available. And it makes sense as it is easy to create business cases around energy efficiency.”

Ratnathican reminds of the importance of business customers, pointing out they account for more than half of the average utility’s revenue.

Cloud benefits

In another webinar in the programme Pieter Coetzee, Senior Director Solutions Marketing at Itron, discusses developments in the cloud, which are aimed to improve the benefits for users.

In Itron’s case, Coetzee says the company sees its future in the cloud and is moving its legacy products there, with the aim to “drive value and outcomes”.

The three delivery models offered are the standard software as a service, managed services and – where Itron aims to position itself primarily – outcomes as a service, where the risks and rewards and any accompanying innovations are shared with the utility.

To achieve this, the key priorities are data collection, analytics and operations. Coetzee presents examples of activities in all these areas for electric, gas and water utilities.

“The cloud allows speed of implementation, scale and the gathering of data from disparate and dispersed sources and sectors,” says Coetzee.

“It’s all about driving value in the business case and providing the flexibility in operations that utilities have told us they want.”

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