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How Artificial Intelligence is Transforming Utility Customer Care

image credit: ID 60239817 © Olivier Le Moal | Dreamstime.com

As AI becomes more of a necessity than a novelty in business, more companies are making it part of their customer service plans. There’s a good reason for that. AI, which is the process by which machines mimic human behavior, is already being used in innumerable ways to support individual and business endeavors.  

The foundation of AI is data and, based on the huge amount of it that utilities collect about customers, they’re well-positioned to deploy AI to improve customer care. Paying closer attention to customer needs and improving services based on those needs initiates a virtuous cycle of customer engagement and working in partnership with customers toward a carbon-neutral future and reduced costs for all parties concerned.

Here are a few ways in which AI can help utilities begin and maintain that cycle.

Personalization

With data about customer usage, AI-based programs can identify patterns to help customers use energy more efficiently and save money on their bills. Additionally, utilities can determine specific services that might be useful for each customer.

For example, rather than sending out a blanket offer to upgrade a swimming pool pump, a utility can be aware of which households have pools and only send the offer to them. This kind of personalization strengthens relationships with both types of households – one because they’re not getting superfluous offers and the other because it feels like the utility understands their needs.

In both cases, customers’ reference point is the type of service they get from other companies they do business with, including those that are highly personalized such as Netflix and Amazon. Modern customers have come to expect the same level of customized service and may defect when those expectations aren’t met.

Convenient Communication

Another customer care area that utilities can improve through AI is communication. Again, customers’ baseline for appropriate actions is based on their interactions with other companies whose dedication to customer care may be years ahead of those within the utility industry. Such actions include 24/7 access, immediate responses, and a variety of communication channels (such as phone, chat, and social media) to choose from.

Customer Control

When utilities not only respond to customer needs but also predict them, customers take notice. AI makes it possible for utilities to enable customers to do things like asking their smart speakers how to reduce their energy bills and get an appropriate response. Even better, utilities can reach out proactively through a customer’s preferred method – such as text – when a higher-than-normal bill is detected or to recommend services or packages that could save them money.

Such processes are the equivalent of placing an “energy expert” in every customer’s home or business and this isn’t too big of a stretch. Electric Energy Online notes that, according to a survey conducted by the Smart Energy Consumer Collective (SECC), “78 percent of consumers in the U.S. trust their utility and are more likely to participate in a program or purchase a product if their utility endorses it.”

By upgrading customer care methods using AI, utilities can improve customer relationships with more targeted messaging and offers, better communication, and cost savings.

What has your utility’s experience been with AI in customer care? What are your plans for the future? Please share in the comments.

Karen Marcus's picture

Thank Karen for the Post!

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Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jun 4, 2020 9:15 pm GMT

For example, rather than sending out a blanket offer to upgrade a swimming pool pump, a utility can be aware of which households have pools and only send the offer to them.

Down the road when disaggregation and smart meters are more common, you may even be able to specify more closely for people who have pool pumps that are less efficient than the average-- the possibilities are really exciting for both utility and customer when it comes to AI & machine learning making things more personalized

Karen Marcus's picture
Karen Marcus on Jun 8, 2020 11:21 pm GMT

Yes, that's so interesting. I'm amazed by how customized and proactive this kind of technology can make customer care. 

Henry Craver's picture
Henry Craver on Jun 5, 2020 7:42 pm GMT

If the AI is good enough, it could make many make a considerable number of jobs at utilties redundant. This would be bad for those workers, but good for the companies' bottom lines and possibly their customers' pocket books. 

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jun 5, 2020 9:55 pm GMT

Truth is that's not a unique prospect to the utility industry, that's something economy-wide we'll have to start dealing with sooner than later. I don't know that 'we should keep doing it this way because it employs people to do a job that could be done cheaper / more efficiently' will last much longer in a capitalist society. This will be one of the bigger economic challenges to wrestle within the coming decades, so getting ahead of that now will surely be important towards long-term success

Karen Marcus's picture
Karen Marcus on Jun 8, 2020 11:19 pm GMT

Good points, Henry and Matt. I don't know a lot about this topic but my understanding is that jobs will also be created as a result of growing automation. Not to say there will be enough of them to replace those displaced by it. But the increase in automation also may not be the end-all of employment as we know it. 

Alan King's picture
Alan King on Jun 9, 2020 9:57 pm GMT

This is an interesting post and opens conversation for many areas, thanks @Karen. 

A couple of points that stood out to me:

1. Pool Pumps - We've been involved in building a behavioural demand response product whereby customers can opt in to receive notifications on high demand days (amongst A/C's etc.) and then they are rewarded with a voucher for taking action. Simple but effective. This needed the smart meter network in place first. While I agree in personalising a service for the customer is the way forward, promoting sales of equipment to them rather than direct financial savings would need to be carefully reviewed, as there are already concerns about how much is known about consumption. There may be less concerns or more trust in the US though.

2. Building on your Convenient Communication paragraph - proactive information, rather than no communication or at best reactive communication is another area. Achieving a greater level of engagement based on insights gained around asset equipment, then getting in touch with the customer. For example, earlier this year I visited a customer with a crew to take them off supply unfortunately as a neutral fault had been detected. This potentially saved some very costly damage to their home and asset owner equipment damage.

It's an exciting area that is already delivering immense value and will continue to do so.

Karen Marcus's picture
Karen Marcus on Jun 19, 2020 4:51 pm GMT

Thanks for taking the time to read and respond, Alan. I see your point about selling based on consumption information, as this approach might seem intrusive to some customers. And I agree there are some exciting opportunities in this area, such as proactive actions like the one you mentioned, which can be of great benefit to customers. I'd be interested to hear from you or others what, based on your experience, are some of the next developments we can look for.  

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