In Customer Service, Utilities Must Step it up or Pack it Up

By Teresa Hansen

While reading this issue after the columns and stories were edited and laid out, I realized a theme: customer expectations, customer service and customer engagement.

The industry and its customers are changing quickly, and electric utilities are challenged to keep up. Customers are more savvy than ever before, they are armed with new technologies, energy technology is becoming “consumerized,” other industries are moving in on utility customers, and some electricity consumers and even communities are moving “off the grid” and becoming electricity generators or “prosumers.”

This issue’s cover asks a question utility executives can’t ignore: What else are you offering your customers?

In her regular column on Page 8, Penni McLean-Conner explains why the status quo in customer service isn’t enough. Tanya Bodell writes in her column that big data is a big deal and must be used to create new value for customers and utilities. The articles in the IT/CIS & CRM and Energy Efficiency & Demand Response sections all deal with customer expectations, social media and customer engagement.

Senior Editor Kristen Wright and I didn’t have this customer-centric theme in mind when we selected these articles several months ago, but this unexpected theme shows the need for utilities to recognize that major changes to their business models are on the horizon.

Beginning on Page 16, three authors from PwC (PricewaterhouseCoppers) list five things utilities should watch for in 2014. Forces that might reshape utilitie” existing business models top the list. The authors explain how advances in technolog––especially distributed energy resources (distributed generation), increasing customer expectations, deregulated retail markets and regulatory uncertaint––are changing the way utility CEOs prioritize and manage capital investments. They write that these forces could cause CEOs to look for new financing sources and models.

The industry is at a pivotal point. Utilities that embrace the changes and adapt to them likely will evolve into companies that offer a plethora of services to a much wider customer base. Utilities that remain rigid could become the next Kodak or Blockbuster Video.

Kristen and I hope the articles in this issue will help you navigate the changes, challenges and possibilities ahea––or at least pause and think about them.

We aren’t stopping with this issue, however. Recently we met with our committee to plan our 2015 Electric Light & Power Executive Conference. We have put together a full-day conference that covers the disruptive forces that are changing the industry and forcing utilities to reinvent themselves. Among other executive-level speakers, five utility CEOs have confirmed. The CEOs, during the final panel, will discuss disruptive forces that are looming in the industry. The four panel sessions are:

  1. Policy and Strategy Evolution;
  2. ‘Prosumers’ Whose Energy is it Anyway?
  3. Impact on Utilities; and
  4. The View From the Top.

The executive conference will continue into the evening with the annual Electric Light & Power and POWERGRID International Awards Dinner, which will honor Electric Light & Powers Utility of the Year and two CEOs of the Year, plus POWERGRID International magazine’s Projects of the Year. The dinner is the perfect ending to our stellar event and offers the opportunity to hobnob with the CEOs from our panel, as well as those who will receive awards.

Every year I say, “This is our best conference yet,” and every year I believe tha”s true. You may learn more about the executive conference at www.elpconference.com. Check it out, and I hope yo”ll make plans to attend. The content could be neither more timely nor more important.

Teresa Hansen, editor in chief

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