The Wired Utility Meets the Wired Generation

by Mark Beckstrom, Jennifer Manuel and Jim Nightingale

As the evolution of the Smart Grid transforms the energy and utility industry, consumers will be affected in unimaginable ways. Consumers will embrace the new technology in different ways and at different speeds–and those who adopt it more quickly will start to drive it in innovative directions.

Understanding the different customer segments and delivering value to them should become a core capability of every utility, but catering to advanced users–especially the technology-ready Millennials –will be critical.

Millennials, the most familiar moniker for those born between 1980 and 2000, are an iPhone- wielding, technology-grasping, economy-boosting force. Conservative estimates place the number of Millennials at more than 80 million–a sizable, influential segment of the population. They are the most tech-savvy consumer segment and, if properly understood and catered to, can help to deliver tremendous functionality and value for all of your customers.

  • For Millennials, technology is not something they adopt or try to integrate into their lives, it is part of their everyday lives, inseparable from who they are and what they do.
  • Millennials are quick to embrace new technology, even quicker to ask for or demand new features and functionality.
  • Millennials will leave you if you are not able to satisfy their needs but fiercely loyal if those needs are met.

How are Millennials likely to respond to these recent advances in energy technology, given their expectations?

Green is good According to Environmental Leader, nearly half of Millennials are willing to put their money where their mouth is. They cite care for the environment and doing the right thing as the primary drivers for their behavior and they spend more for environmentally friendly products, services or brands. The opportunity to use smart devices is more than an expectation for this generation, they are waiting for it.

Staying connected Part of the Millennials’ comfort with technology lies in its level of connectedness. Watch this generation run home from school, texting all the way, then jump online and chat with the very people they left minutes ago: this cohort maintains a greater web of personal connections than previous groups. Information, good and bad, from many sources, will travel, and be acted upon, at a faster pace than marketers have been conditioned to in the past.

Delivering value Simply presenting information to Millennials on their energy usage will be woefully insufficient in delivering value to them. They need to feel engaged and participative in the process. They are also competitive and enjoy the trappings of online competition. Millennials will be comfortable with the idea that their energy company can “reach through walls” if the process is transparent and they understand the energy company’s sphere of control and can have fun competing with their friends.

Engaging Millennials

How will we use what we know about these new capabilities to engage the demanding and tech-savvy Millennial consumers?

Manage the customer experience. Millennials Google. They are comfortable with technology and expect it to always work, in whatever media they choose. The worst mistake a utility could make would be to think the technology itself will carry the day. If Millennials are going to manage their power consumption, they will expect flawless mechanics and seamless IT execution.

It is essential for energy and utility companies to provide interactive, informative web pages so Millennials can find the information they are seeking and choose what is right for their needs. Sites with features such as tools for measuring a carbon footprint will resonate with Millennials. And Millennials are used to feeling appreciated: customer service will have to meet a new and more demanding set of expectations.

It’s all about lifestyle. Many people, Millennials included, are not concerned with saving a few dollars on their electric bills, but if they are provided with an opportunity to save the planet, it’s another story. Whether it’s reducing your carbon footprint or just the coolness of being able to fire-up some key appliances from your mobile device on your way home from work, power isn’t an end in itself for most people, it’s something that enables them to live their lives the way they want.

Use real marketing, including tie-ins and promotions. Millennials are used to product tie-ins and expect the whole world to be connected, especially around issues like the environment. Power isn’t a gray and boring commodity anymore, it’s part of a broader lifestyle and deserves to be put forward aggressively.

Be authentic. This may be the first truly “post-advertising” generation. Millennials have grown up in a blizzard of commercial communications unlike anything before. They will quickly sort through the baseless claims, work with their friends to determine what they believe, and ruthlessly abandon what doesn’t fit their schemas. The marketer who loses their trust will be kicked to the side of the road faster than you can say “but wait, there’s more””


Mark Beckstrom, Jennifer Manuel and Jim Nightingale work in the IBM Global Business Services energy and utilities practice. Mark is the global learning strategy leader, focusing on energy and utility clients; Jim leads the IBM energy & utilities organizational strategy practice; and Jennifer works in the learning solutions practice. (Jennifer is the resident Millennial.)

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