Transforming the Consumer Experience -Customer Communications for Utilities


by Paul Woods, HP Exstream

In recent years, utilities have tackled many challenges, most notably uncertainty around air-quality regulations, a stagnant economy and integrating renewable energy sources. The accelerating adoption of smart grid technologies and massive amounts of data challenge utilities to effectively engage customers. Customers desire an interactive experience void of toll-free numbers and uninformative call center representatives. They seek a utility that anticipates their needs, considers their budgets and provides them with real-time value.

Imagine the impact on a customer if his or her utility were to text message service, email or communicate through social media about a recent usage spike before the billing cycle closed and provided an end-of-month bill estimation. Meter insight—whether traditional or smart—provides utilities an opportunity to engage in an interactive dialogue with customers and proactively help residential, commercial and industrial consumers best manage their energy usage. Here are seven critical communications strategies for utilities to consider for increased customer satisfaction and higher revenues in the long term:

1 Leverage historical customer insights to communicate energy-saving tips, tiered pricing alerts and rate-shift reminders. Insights integrated into a utility’s customer communications increase customer satisfaction, reduce expensive calls to customer service centers and boost referral and renewal rates among existing customers in deregulated markets.
2 Provide real-time content for multichannel communications such as smart phone and tablet-based apps. Utilities continue to introduce appealing smart phone apps that deliver real-time value into the market and use online Web portals to deliver appropriate content to a customer’s smart phone or tablet. This includes outage notifications, end-of-month bill estimations and energy-saving tips with insights based on customers’ usage. This will help utilities generate new revenue opportunities and increase customer satisfaction.
3 Manage electricity demand during peak periods with demand response communications that encourage end users to shift usage to another time or reduce their electricity usage in a specified time. Demand response communications—whether around critical-peak rebates or time-of-use programs—are driven by email and text, which let utilities immediately notify customers that an event is happening and communicate incentives for temporarily reducing their electricity use when demand is projected to outpace supply. Communications that let customers contribute to energy-load reduction during peak demand provide significant rewards for utilities, including reduced emissions, delayed installation of costly utility equipment and decreased dependency on high-cost, peak-energy sources. The key is to target customers who have or might have the ability to respond—most notably customers who have indicated a preference for email, text or other electronic delivery channels.
4 Create a dynamic and engaging customer Web portal with detailed information about electricity usage and costs for reduced calls and accelerated resolutions of customer service issues, which will allow utility customers to make informed decisions. Web portals should be at the core of a utility’s communication strategy. Other delivery channels including email, text and traditional mail communication drive customers to one central repository—perhaps a personalized URL—to access neighborhood outage maps, hourly gas and electric usage, energy-saving tips and other self-service options. Armed with a better understanding of their energy usage, consumers decide how to optimize their electricity consumption and reduce their bills.
5 Automate communications. Utilities can connect their systems to communicate directly with real-time smart meters and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) data through an on-demand application that can be set up to email or text customers automatically when an anomaly is observed or energy consumption exceeds a predetermined threshold. Using this type of on-demand application can transform the dialogue between utilities to customers from reactive to proactive and influence customer behavior.
6 Upgrade from legacy customer communications management (CCM) solutions. As customer demand increases for intelligent, personalized communication, utilities must deliver residential bills, commercial and industrial statements and newsletters via preferred channels such as the Web, text, mobile apps and email. Most systems are tied to old processes and do not easily support these types of electronic delivery channels.
7 Foster customer relationships through social networking and microblogging services. Consider Facebook, Twitter and other social media websites when communicating with utility customers because the platforms can be used to engage millions of customers reactively and proactively. Integrated within the existing CCM solution, utilities can drive communications around demand response programs and billing inquiries initiated by customers while selling new services, solutions and products.

Utilities no longer interact with customers only via monthly statements or call centers during outages. With the proliferation of smart grid technologies, Web usage, smart phones and tablet devices, consumers expect more communication from their utilities and desire an interactive experience. Utilities that anticipate customer needs, consider their budgets and provide them with real-time value will find increased customer satisfaction and revenue growth.

Paul Woods is the energy and utilities industry solutions lead within HP Exstream. He has 20 years’ experience in the industry.

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