• Utility Transformations
  • the Internet of Things
  • IoT
  • Energy Cloud

Customer Engagement Is on the Rise, but Not All Utilities Are Ready

Neil Strother
Aug 27, 2018

 

Connected City 2

Customer engagement takes on new meaning in an Internet of Things (IoT) world, with billions of connected devices piling-up data from the electrical grid both in front of and behind the meter. Integrating disparate data with advanced analytics and novel business models helps form what Navigant Research calls the Energy Customer Transformation. In a recent article, Mackinnon Lawrence and Jan Vrins note that by “putting this data to work, utilities can provide better services to their customers, offer new products and services through sophisticated insights, and improve the operations of the grid.” This customer transformation is a key element of the fundamental changes taking place in energy markets, or what Navigant Research calls the Energy Cloud.

But are utilities ready for this transformation? Perhaps not as much as they think. According to J.D. Power's 2018 Utility Digital Experience Study, when it comes to digital experiences utilities lag behind compared to other industries. Measured against other consumer-facing industries, utilities score 571 on a 1,000-point scale. By comparison, the retail sector scores 771. There are exceptions among utilities. Alabama Power, for instance, came out on top for digital customer satisfaction with a score of 879, significantly higher than the industry average.

Dynamism Embraced by Some

Beyond the survey results, Con Edison is another utility embracing new customer engagement tools in a bid to move past the norm. Con Edison recently enhanced its Marketplace with the creation of Con Edison Cars, an online shopping site that offers prospective buyers information not only about the cost of buying various models but also the environmental effect of owning different cars—including hybrids and plug-in EVs. By adding this capability, the utility is engaging its customers with targeted and useful information that goes beyond just billing for electrons or managing customers through an outage via a digital platform.

Eversource is yet another major utility that has shifted its thinking and actions related to customer engagement. By integrating its trove of data from a dozen systems, the utility has boosted engagement among both residential and commercial customers, and estimates a per-year economic benefit to the company and its customers of $150 million.

It’s Time to Take Epic-Sized Bites

A new white paper produced by Georgia Tech’s Center for the Development and Application of Internet of Things Technologies illustrates new ways of leveraging IoT for enhanced citizen and customer engagement from a Smart Cities perspective, which is a key Energy Cloud platform. The paper introduces a screening concept called EPIC, which helps organizations assess the effect of IoT projects from four angles:

  • Ethics: Effect on individuals, groups, and society
  • Profit: Economic and social
  • Intimacy: Ease of access, mutual openness, and customized experience
  • Connectivity: Medium of communication, computing, and trustworthiness

It is evident that new digital tools and processes for enhancing customer engagement are here now. But they are not as widely used as they could be. Forward-thinking utilities need to become obsessed with their customers, the data, and their needs as noted by Lawrence and Vrins. And utilities need to be bold, even to the point of cannibalizing existing utility business models. It is time to take bigger bites.