Utility Must Teach the Consumer to Engage

While the utility grapples with the idea of engaging more with its customers, the customer itself also has to learn to engage more with the utility. The utility needs to encourage this relationship.
Published: Sat 01 Mar 2014

It is becoming increasingly important that utilities learn how to proactively engage with their customers.

This new utility-customer relationship will have profound effects on the success of demand response and energy efficiency. It will create a better relationship with regulators and ratepayer advocates and it will enable the utility to compete more effectively against companies such as Google, Comcast and EnerNOC, which are all wanting a piece of the energy sector.

Gone are the days where the customer is treated as a passive participant. The need to interact more is increasing. Consumers want more information about their consumption today. It’s not only about billing and power outage updates. They want to know how to use their power more efficiently in order to save money. A lot of this has to do with government mandates which call for reduced peak loads, grid upgrades and modernization. This has forced the utility to become more dynamic in the way it communicates with its customer.

Effective customer engagement is also a powerful tool as it assists the utility to carry out robust demand response and energy efficiency programs.

In the past, customers only called the utility to dispute a bill or report an outage. Today, the utility is offering the customer so much more. It is therefore up to the utility to advise the consumer what they can offer.

Here are five tips that Dean Schiller of CEIVA Energy has put together to help utilities engage better with their customers:

  • Tell a simple story: Energy data must be conveyed to the consumer in the form of a as a simple story. This is done by using language that consumers understand (avoid industry jargon at all costs) and the information should relate directly to their lives. It is easier for the customer to understand how many dollars of energy a bedroom is using daily than trying to understand the concept of kilowatt-hours used per month for the entire house.

  • Make it easy and fun: Presenting data in a clear, interesting way is key to engaging customers. Entertaining messages and visuals create an enjoyable experience, drawing in customers to become invested in their energy use. They will be far more likely to alter their consumption behaviour over time. When the data is “glanceable”, respectful, and presented in a context that customers care about, customers will be more amenable to it.

  • Make it actionable: Smart meters make real-time data possible. Now, customers can see the impact based on what they’re doing right now, enabling them to draw a clear connection between cause and effect. Presenting just the right data, at the right time, and in the right context is vital to drive customer behaviour change.

  • Respect the customer: Don’t force customers to do anything they don’t want to do. Instead, give customers the option to join programs. Utilities should be honest and thoughtful with them about the benefits and drawbacks, and let them opt-out without hassle.

  • Empower customers: People will change their behaviour when they have knowledge that makes an action irresistible. An opportunity to save money will always be at the top of their list. Key to this is enabling technology like smart thermostats or in home displays which present easy-to-access, understandable energy information.