Reinventing EE Delivery

by Penni McLean-Conner, NSTAR

Dr. Chip Bell is not only a friend, but a renowned customer service expert. His newest book, “Take Their Breath Away: How Imaginative Service Creates Devoted Customers” (with John R. Patterson), is filled with ideas, concepts and strategies to deliver customer service that increases customer satisfaction and builds brand loyalty.

Call your own unit or organization, disguise your voice and ask for something out of the ordinary, even something weird.
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Program administrators facing rapidly increasing savings goals should peek into Bell’s book for concepts such as reinvention and comfort, which could be valuable in designing programs that achieve deeper, broader market penetration and build customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Reinvention of service is all about seeing what others see, but using new applications. When Netflix took on Blockbuster, it didn’t copy Hollywood Video stores; it modeled itself after Amazon. com. Bass Pro Shops were more interested in emulating Disney World than Bubba’s Bait and Tackle. What if the Best Buy Geek Squad could run your IT department for a week? Put FedEx in charge of your mailroom or have your line operators trained by a Ritz-Carlton hotel concierge, and you’d get a new application.

Comfort is the product of a familiar, emotional connection, plus an anxiety-free experience. Look closely at all aspects of an experience that could make customers apprehensive or nervous. Take an empathy walk with frequent customers willing to talk you through every step of their service journeys, including points that give them the slightest unease. Look at customer feedback not as evaluation, but as part of customer forensics that unearth ways to make their experiences better. Do you let customers wait anxiously? Could you change their perceptions of waiting like Disney World does for guests lined up to board Space Mountain? Call your own company, disguise your voice, and ask for something out of the ordinary, even something weird. Ask colleagues in a nearby unit to audit your service and suggest ways to make the service more comfortable.

NSTAR applied comfort and reinvention within its Marshfield program, one of the first in the nation to offer integrated delivery of energy efficiency (EE), renewables and demand response (DR). The program’s goal is to address growing energy demand with demand-side resources as opposed to the traditional method of building more capacity.

In the Marshfield program, a utility engineering review indicated that capacity upgrades are needed to support additional load growth of 2 MW. The Marshfield program’s goal is to secure 2 MW of demand-side solutions of EE, DR and on-site renewable solar generation to delay the needed capacity upgrades.

The program manager for the Marshfield pilot faced challenging savings objectives while delivering a package of integrated services. To reinvent the design and delivery, the program manager started with a charrette, a collaborative session in which designers draft a solution to a design problem. It included local business leaders, energy service companies that serve as program implementers and demand-side management and regulatory experts. They generated great integrated program design ideas, and the process created joint ownership of the solution among participants.

The charrette also identified a need for comfort in the marketing approach. The Marshfield project uses community-based marketing that focuses on consumer lifestyles. The theme is “It’s all about where we live, work and play.” Marketing tools to drive the message into the community included outreach to community leaders, participation in local events and targeted marketing in the Marshfield newspaper.

The success NSTAR achieved in Marshfield was amplified by applying reinvention and comfort. The customer service delivery designed into the Marshfield program increased customer satisfaction and created goodwill for the NSTAR brand.

Utility leaders in customer service, EE, operations and support services will find more insight and strategies in Bell’s book.


Penni McLean-Conner is the vice president of customer care at NSTAR, the largest investor-owned electric and gas utility in Massachusetts. McLean-Conner, a registered professional engineer, serves on several industry boards of directors, including the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and CS Week. Her latest book, “Energy Ef¿¿ ciency: Principles and Practices,” is available at

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