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Energy Central Power Perspectives: Welcome New Expert Interview Series: Matt Bowgren, Program Manager at Franklin Energy and New Expert in the Energy Efficiency Group

Posted to Energy Central in the Energy Efficiency Group

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The priority placed on utility energy efficiency programs is rising year-over-year as customers demand ways to save energy and money, utilities recognize the value of reducing power demand instead of building out new generation, and government regulations start to tighten up on rising electricity demand. With this increased focus on utility energy efficiency, which is even the topic of this month’s Hot Topic Newsletter from Energy Central, we are fortunate to have recently added an energy efficiency leader to our network of experts, Matt Bowgren.

Matt is a Program Manager for Retail products at Franklin Energy, helping end-users to identify the low-hanging fruit (as well as the less low-hanging, but still as valuable, fruit!) to improve their on-site energy efficiency. His experience, which you’ll read about shortly, allows him to bring tremendous insight to the Energy Efficiency Group on Energy Central. So keep reading to find more about his background and his efficiency perspectives, and don’t be afraid to reach out via the Energy Central community for some of his expertise in the field, since that’s what this community is all about!

Matt Chester: The most useful way for us to kick off these interviews for the Energy Central community is with the basics: Can you give an overview of who you are, what knowledge and experience you’re bringing to the table as a new expert in our Energy Efficiency community, and what you’re working on these days at Franklin Energy?

Matt Bowgren: As a fellow retail customer, I think we can all relate to the pleasant surprise when a purchasing experience goes remarkably smooth and we leave feeling like we’re looking forward to the next purchase. As a trained designer, I’ve learned to treat everyone as a customer and every interaction like a customer experience. Working in retail, office, and B2B sales settings, I can say that the problems are always different, but the challenge to me has always been the same: how to delight the customer with a pleasant surprise.

In fact, I was just at a big box retailer this morning to purchase a surge protector (I already have several advanced power strips for the record), and it was amazing – amazingly bad. There were many choices, and I ended up making a purchase, but I left feeling like it was a poor experience. The pricing didn’t make sense, there were four different brands with no discernable unique qualities other than one appeared rugged, and there were two products shelved in the wrong locations.  With utility programs, people can participate just because you have rebates, but that doesn’t mean they enjoy it.

At Franklin Energy, I’m working on creating the best experience possible for customers looking to make a purchase. Utilities often manage different implementation contractors for each purchasing channel, such as retail, online, distributor, etc., and could miss meaningful connections between data, program implementation, and customer communications, or worse yet, create competition for customers’ attention between these channels. We are designing a unified approach across channels, reducing the customers’ barrier to action, and pointing them to their best available option.

One of the main reasons I joined Franklin Energy, outside of the wonderful culture, is that our NGAGE platform integrates the regular utility-customer interface, such as billing, with utility portfolio programs, including its own built-in behavioral and AI-driven recommendations, in a way that allows us to provide the customer with one cohesive message customized to them. There is a tendency to try and make every program visible at once to customers, hope they’ll look through them all, and then decide which options are best, but very few people work like that. I love customers and the ability to create raving fans, and this platform enables the more effective customer engagement that I believe every customer, and therefore utility, desires.

 

MC: Energy efficiency is commonly assumed in the mainstream coverage to simply be a benefit to customers to save money, but obviously there is immense value to the utility sector in encouraging and even incentivizing their customer bases to use energy smartly and without excessive waste. Have you seen a progression in that perspective of the utility companies in recent years, in energy efficiency either becoming a more important or less important priority? How high of a priority would you say utilities are placing in their energy efficiency programs?  

MB: When we talk to customers to ask them about why they chose a particular product, the number one reason usually has to do with control, comfort, or reliability. The reality is that people don’t purchase products just to save money or energy, so marketing has to be smart about communicating what matters most. Yes, we’re only going to market energy-efficient choices, but if customers end up making a purchase and energy efficiency is simply a byproduct for them, that’s still mission-accomplished. I see that perspective aligning with utility priorities around customer experience a lot more now than I did nine years ago.

Along with customer experience becoming a higher priority, cost-effectiveness, load-shaping, and the energy burden are also becoming a much higher priority. Cost-effectiveness is being driven by rules that allow utilities to earn a return on investment in these programs and the decreasing amount of lighting savings, which has been the most cost-effective measure for the last decade. It’s also a benefit for the customer because cost-effectiveness requires a more customized approach on the next best step for each customer, which is again why I love the NGAGE platform, because it enables that personalization.

Load-shaping is being talked about everywhere, so I won’t go into a lot of detail, but it’s definitely a higher priority now and we’re working on how to align efficient product purchases with the future needs of the grid, particularly in shaping load, demand response, and combining past participation, IoT, and Meter Data Management (MDM) data sources to generate useful insights for customers and the grid.

The most positive priority increase over the last few years is utilizing energy efficiency programs to reduce the energy burden for customers where an energy bill represents a high percentage of their income, often 7 to 10%. For customers having to make choices between essentials, such as food, heating and cooling, and healthcare, reductions in the energy burden improve their ability to spend on other necessities. What gets evaluated gets attention, so it’s a positive step to start seeing program performance accounting for non-energy benefits, such as health and well-being. I love making customers happy, but improving people’s health? Come on! Who wouldn’t get excited every morning to help with that?

MC: In your bio, you’ve noted that you’ve spent time working on efficiency across residential, commercial, and industrial sectors, as well as with regard to electricity vs. gas. Can you describe how you see the difference in approaches being necessary depending on which of these sectors or energy types you’re dealing with? And where is their unity in strategy regardless of sector/fuel?

MB: There are a lot of differences. We’ve spent decades developing the best outreach and communication approaches for each of those sectors. The simple question whose answer necessitates a different approach for each sector is, “How does the person making the purchasing decision realize value as a result?” I think you can imagine how a business owner, finance manager, operations manager, or homeowner might answer that question differently.

When it comes to gas vs. electric, the customer doesn’t care. The customer, in fact, is frustrated whenever gas and electric utilities don’t join efforts because it leads to a fractured system of contractor participation and incentives where fine print leads to a poor experience. Customers want easy, and I think it is an ongoing charge for utilities to develop joint offerings, such as facility assessments, home assessments, and combined incentives for things like smart thermostats and retro-commissioning. The unity is in the benefit to the customer, whether it’s dollars, control, comfort, or reliability – if a customer never heard about therms or kWh, most wouldn’t miss it.

 

MC: Energy efficiency programs from utilities are only as effective as the customers make them, which is why messaging, education, and customer service are so critical. Throughout your career, what have been some of your most significant lessons learned on how to engage customers successfully and allow them to be energy efficiency partners?

MB: Energy efficiency is hugely important to me – it’s the industry I work in. But I realize it’s not hugely important to everyone else in their daily lives when you’re interrupting them with a message. Customers don’t engage because of energy savings, they engage because energy savings fits with their why, such as their purpose, cause, or beliefs. Price and savings are just a barrier for someone to take an action, but rarely the reason why they take action.

Speaking of barriers, having engaged energy efficiency partners requires useful information and reducing the effort to take action. We describe this as creating seamless and relevant interactions. This is another area where the NGAGE platform shines. Utilities have an abundance of data that is useful to the customer, so we present it in a relevant manner with a call to action. The more seamless the transition from desire to action (e.g. 1-click checkout and instant rebates), the less energy you waste on “friction” and the more energy you can spend on engagement.

MC: You’re relatively new to the Energy Central community as a whole. In your short time with us thus far, can you comment on what you’ve found to be valuable about being a member and using this platform? And on the other end, what value do you hope to bring to fellow Energy Central users as a community member and as an expert in our Energy Efficiency community?

MB: Programs get evaluated once a year at most, and often these evaluations don’t address the challenges or opportunities in program design very thoroughly. Being a part of a community like Energy Central is an opportunity to provide timely information with more about specifics and trends in an environment that is much more focused (i.e. less cluttered) than a platform like LinkedIn. I look to digest a lot of content to refine my stance, especially contrasting opinions, and love reading about others’ use of tools.

I’m relentless in my focus on the customer experience, but we deal with a lot of challenging situations in the industry where the customer experience could suffer from the solution. I only need to mention one word, government, for you to understand what I mean by solutions that sacrifice customer experience. With an interest in discussing a variety of topics from policy to technology, I hope that my point of view on customer experience helps inform someone else’s thought process and maybe leads them to deliver a better customer experience even when it requires additional resources.

 

MC: Is there anything else you’d like the community to know?
MB: I mentioned the energy burden earlier in the interview, and I think it’s important for the industry to collaborate and learn from the many different ways utilities are addressing it. The next time someone shares an article, posts an insight, or asks a question that’s related, I encourage them to tag it with #energyburden. It’s an easy way for us all to stay up-to-date and build upon each other’s work.


 

Thanks again to Matt for his dedication as a newfound expert for our Energy Central Energy Efficiency Group and for introducing himself to the community in this interview. If after reading this you think he can help answer questions you may have about ongoing energy efficiency projects  you have, take advantage of the opportunity to connect and share via Energy Central. And if you see him posting or commenting around the community, be sure to welcome him and ask questions so you can learn even more! Energy Central’s core value comes from our network of experts and professionals across all facets of the utility industry, so be sure to leverage that for yourself!

The other expert interviews that we’ve completed in this series can be read here, and if you are interesting in becoming an expert then you can reach out to me or you can apply here.

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