CIO Roundtable: Xcel, NV Energy, SCE and PHI Talk Customer Engagement

by Teresa Hansen, editor in chief

It’s a shame not everyone can sit in on one of the five mega sessions at DistribuTECH Conference & Exhibition in January, particularly IOU CIOs: Developing Solutions to Support Customer Engagement.

Xcel Energy Vice President and CIO Dave Harkness, NV Energy Vice President and CIO Kevin Judice, Southern California Edison (SCE) Vice President and CIO Todd Inlander, and Pepco Holdings Inc. CIO Doug Myers will describe how they deploy and develop smart grid applications, infrastructure, security and networks and how these systems are designed to support enhanced customer engagement. What the CIOs will share is increasingly relevant, so I interviewed them with help from PayGo Chief Marketing Officer Dave Elve, who will act as their moderator Wednesday, Jan. 29 in San Antonio. (Elve’s panel sessions are always well-attended and get rave reviews for the amount of audience interaction with top utility executives and unscripted, anything-goes nature.)

During the panel session, Harkness, Judice, Inlander and Myers will discuss their programs and technologies, as well as planned enhancements. The session also will cover lessons learned and the audience will have plenty of time to ask questions.

We hope the following interview entices those of you going to DistribuTECH to attend the mega session and ask your own questions and gives those of you unable to leave work for a week in January a slice of DistribuTECH’s anticipated content.

POWERGRID: What application have you deployed that has been the most important to customer engagement?

Dave Harkness   Harkness: Our online account management tool, My Account. This application allows our customers to view usage and pay their bills. We will be adding additional usage comparisons and promoting energy efficiency programs. Utilities have been slow to develop mobile applications, yet today our customers are able to pay their bills via mobile. We are focusing on expanding key customer outage messages and improved maps. Mother Nature brought large customer outages with wind damage in MPLS and flooding in Colorado.
Dave Harkness
     
Kevin Judice   Judice: We have an online account management service called MyAccount that allows for billing, account history, bill analyzer, etc.; however, we are working on a new program this year that includes a Customer Preference Center that enables residential and commercial customers to specify preferred channels and devices for communicating with NV Energy. This preference center will manage the communications for outage communications, billing and usage management, demand response and other services. As part of this effort, we are also enhancing our customer outage communications around reporting and receiving outage information and mobilizing this feature set, as well. Lastly, we are working on a prepay option to offer our customers the ability to manage the payment of their energy bills that correlates to their cash flow.
Kevin Judice
     
Todd Inlander  

Inlander: There are a few:

A. Access to individual energy usage information through My Account (see stats below).

B. The Budget Assistant tool has had a very positive response (customers sign up for alerts when nearing a spending target, more than 332,000 enrolled).

C. We are in the process of enhancing our customers’ digital experience so that our website and services are more responsive to today’s customer. This means moving to a new Web platform, expanding mobile access, Web chat services, evolving our apps to be more robust, etc. All these developments have been in the works, and we are excited to move forward with these customer offerings in 2014. Mobile Web, 17 percent of visits to sce.com come through a mobile device; that’s an average of about 13,000 visits per day.

D. With Edison SmartConnect, SCE successfully completed more than 4,400 remote turn-on and turn-off requests each day.

My Account usage reports viewed from 12/1/2011 through 9/1/2013:

1. Hourly usage reports: 4,572,419

2. Current billing reports: 4,026,228

3. Specific billing period: 2,079,859

4. 13-month trend report: 923,024

Todd Inlander
     
Doug Myers   Myers: There have been many services we have introduced that have helped us to engage better with our customers on many fronts. Perhaps the most valuable have been our My Account Web portal and our mobile apps. Through these services, we have deployed capabilities that provide greater flexibility and information to our customers than ever before.
Doug Myers

POWERGRID: How do you leverage social media?

Harkness: Facebook and Twitter were utilized during recent storms and proved many customers leverage these communication channels during outages.

Judice: NV Energy uses Facebook and Twitter primarily to drive participation in customer programs, publish company news and outage information, and promote community events.

Inlander: On a day-to-day basis, social media provides SCE an effective communications tool for delivering important corporate messaging, such as energy- and money-saving tips, in a more informal, more personal way. What’s more, it also allows us to talk with our customers as opposed to talking at them, which, if done successfully, will humanize our brand. This transparent, two-way dialogue can also quickly diffuse a potentially contentious situation.

Beyond that, social media’s importance as a communications tool during a crisis is increasingly important. During a recent significant outage affecting more than 100,000 customers, we were exceptionally active on Twitter, proactively posting updates and reactively responding to customers. The result was that we were able to turn a typically negative event for a utility—an outage—into an opportunity to engage our customers. Among the dozens of complimentary tweets we received from customers were these two: @SCE Nothing else was working. News stations didn’t post anything ’til late. Social Media comes to the rescue,” and, “@SCE Thank you guys so much. Power is something we must not take for granted.”

SCE uses Facebook (43,000), Twitter (six handles), YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn, as well as Apps for Outage.

We are building a relationship with our customers. Internally, it takes a cross-functional team—corporate communications, IT, the contact center, and the business customer division—to work together to ensure timely and cohesive outreach and responses.

SCE utilizes social media in a variety of ways: in crisis detection and response, promotion of programs and services, assist customers, promote local and community activities, and educate customers and businesses.

Myers: We leverage social media to interact with customers on channels they are already using and to provide the information they need both on nonstorm days and during storms. Given the increasingly important role that social media plays as a source of information during emergencies, we use our channels to provide restoration updates and respond to customer inquiries quickly. In addition, increasing our social media visibility through promoted posts and videos allows us to better reach our customers and the public. Our online followers can also help us amplify our message.

POWERGRID: What has been the biggest challenge in your smart grid-customer engagement implementation?

Harkness: For a regulated utility, the cost recovery has been the biggest challenge.

Judice: Maturity of the technologies deployed and organizational readiness to support the new processes and technologies.

Inlander: Regulatory requirements, technology constraints, evolving business and customer needs, resource constraints.

Myers: The biggest challenge has been delivering smart grid benefits to customers via outdated billing systems. We have done a remarkable job at retrofitting old technology to provide functionality that these systems were not built to deliver, but it has taken longer than we’d have liked, and it presents constraints on future releases. We are in the process of upgrading to one modern system that will allow us to engage our customers better and faster going forward.

POWERGRID: What advice would you give utilities just beginning to plan and implement customer engagement solutions as part of their smart grid program?

Harkness: It is important to work closely with your regulators and state commissions to support a complete program and outline the strategy and benefits for the complete program. We did a number of community outreach workshops with our customers to obtain buy in and support direction.

Judice: I would agree with Dave on working with the regulators and customers. I would also repeat a point made to an earlier question that you should ensure you have the organization prepared to effectively manage the impact to the operational changes that come with such a program.

Inlander:

A. Customer first. Think about your customers, how will they benefit, how will they use it, adoption rate and value.

B. Compliance. Think about local and state regulators, legislation, etc.

C. Collaboration. Bring your internal stakeholders, business leaders, technology teams and external partners to the table early when designing your implementation.

D. Implement with agility and measure performance against needs and best practices.

E. Look forward. Balance your design between existing capabilities and where you want to be in the future with your customers and as a business.

Myers: Collaboration is key. That begins with ensuring there is one answer to the question, “Who owns customer engagement at our company?” In the context of smart grid customer engagement, customer care, corporate communications, smart grid program management and regulatory-government affairs should all have strong opinions on the topic. Without intentional collaboration, each independently might craft sound approaches that are not necessarily aligned. In addition to internal collaboration, collaboration with external stakeholders is also very important. Getting input from your regulators and other key external stakeholders helps to ensure that your customer engagement plan is informed by as many perspectives as possible.

DistribuTECH Conference & Exhibition is Jan. 28-30, 2014, at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio.

In 2013, DistribuTECH and Utility Products Conference & Exposition drew nearly 10,000 attendees from 53 countries, more than 400 exhibitors, more than 350 of the industry’s top speakers—more than 180 from utilities—and featured 77 conference sessions in 14 tracks. Visit www.distributech.com for more information and to register.

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