The New Utility Customer: Higher Expectations, Higher Stakes
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- May 26, 2020 2:08 pm GMTMay 22, 2020 4:36 pm GMT
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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2020-05 - Customer Care, click here for more
By Dan Lozie and Mike Smith
Utilities and their customers are at an inflection point. On the one hand, the challenges from a new competitive landscape, customer expectations, and cost pressures at times border on being overwhelming; add in the challenges with managing services for customers during the coronavirus crisis and this leaves many utilities if not collapsing, at least taking steps backwards on customer care. On the other hand, utilities now have the benefit of working in a data-rich environment, the likes of which they have never had before: smart meter data, online customer interaction, call center data, and social media are the sources of customer insight and engagement riches.
Being at this inflection point merits some perspectives on the role of leveraging this data-rich environment to enable utilities to simultaneously meet the operational and financial challenges they are confronting today, while improving the customer experience.
Industry analyst firm IDC projects that by 2022 55% of utilities will use a core digital platform to automate, optimize, and orchestrate assets, business processes, customers, and employees, thus improving efficiency and business outcomes. This is how the utilities need to be thinking and positioning their organizations in a world where the data will be just as valuable as the electrons. The following are some examples of how utility leaders can be focused on opportunities in this environment.
One immediate opportunity for utility leaders to leverage data is in the current crisis caused by the coronavirus. Most utilities have taken the position of ceasing all power shut-offs due to non-payment while we are in this crisis. This action, while bold and noble, begs questions around how to recover and account for this lost revenue in ways that that continue to consider the hardships of many of their customers. Using AI and data such as payment history, usage history, and demographic data, utilities can cluster and personalize individual payment plans, and tailor communications that cause the least amount of pain for their most challenges customers while also helping to return the utility’s financial picture to some semblance of normalcy in a shorter period of time.
A second area where this data can be a gold mine of insights is in how utilities manage customers during one of the most critical challenges for any utility: during an outage. Outage management systems have made significant leaps ahead over the last two decades, and now there is even more capability to manage outages through better communications and insights driven by customer data. One example is via social media where, for example, a large utility in the southern United States used social media data to track where the outages were most pronounced during widespread outages caused by an ice storm. This enables utility managers to send crews to areas of their service territory that were most impacted by the storm. With improved visibility on customer impacts, and better planning of work crews, the utilities can then also communicate more timely and accurate estimates to those affected via text messages and social media.
Utilities are also using social media and customer interaction data from online and call center sources to measure and improve customer sentiment. For instance ,text analytics and sentiment analysis can provide insights around customer reactions to changes in service, new policies, or rate changes.
One final area for consideration is with the introduction of time-of-use rates. At the heart of the “TOU” rate challenge for customers is behavior modification. Leveraging usage and billing data, utility customer engagement leaders can tailor a variety of product and service offerings to meet customer needs as they learn to smooth the transition to the TOU world. Taking this concept a step further, many utilities now have online storefronts where customers can order products like smart thermostats, efficient lighting, advanced power strips, and even EV chargers.
The availability of customer data demonstrates how utilities can become “part of the solution” for their customers as opposed to being something that is only thought about in a negative light – paying their bills or experiencing an outage. Indeed, data and analytics might very well be the bridge to utilities being viewed as the “trusted energy advisor“. Applying analytics, machine learning, and AI to the wealth of data utilities now possess can provide the personalized customer care that customers expect, while improving the ability for utilities to weather the current hardships and come out of this as more resilient organizations.
Note: Dan Lozie is a Senior Technical Account Manager at SAS; he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mike Smith is a Principal Industry Marketing Manger at SAS and can be reached at email@example.com.