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Accenture on utilities and customers

While we're on the topic of consumers, the consultancy Accenture issued recent findings that bear mentioning in a report titled "Actionable Insights for the New Energy Consumer."

If you didn't realize that there's a "new energy consumer" you'd better tighten your seat belt and read this report. If you do know this new animal, the Accenture findings may provide some ammo for your internal proposals. (Below you'll find further links to past work by Accenture.)

First, nearly 60 percent of electricity customers do not receive a half-dozen obvious products or services from their provider. Of those, from 40 to 60 percent (depending on what products/services they currently receive) are very or somewhat interested in additional offerings. Respondents to Accenture's survey also indicated, at a lesser level, some interest in non-energy offerings from their utility. (That category includes home repairs, telecom, security, insurance, etc.)

My take: your customers are an unexploited market for products and services that might be profitable or advantageous in other ways, such as cementing the relationship or even building trust.

Consumers  that are offered a "premium electricity service" would most expect that to include a greater mix of renewable energy and/or personalized energy tools and reports to help them understand and manage their use. (Hold the Grey Poupon.)

The interest in "premium" services varies with geography. Chinese, Brazilians and South Africans lead the way in willingness to pay more for such offerings (with 70 percent, 61 percent and 58 percent probably or certainly interested), while Americans show 22 percent such interest. That places Americans in the low range of interest. Those willing to pay more want a tangible product rather than improved service, Accenture found.

My take: Americans are tapped out financially and more willing to shop than turn to their electricity provider for additional products/services.

Relative to other countries, respondents in the United States showed somewhat less interest in lower electricity rates in exchange for limited customer service. (That perspective ranked the U.S. 15th among 24 nations on that trade-off.)

Motivating factors that might lead to interest in service bundles include discounted costs and convenience (single point of contact, single bill), much like other industries. (Shocking insight: it's been done before!)

The opportunity is ripe for moving customers to self-service, as the Web is strongly preferred as a channel for interacting with the utility, followed by paper mail—at least where bill presentment and payment are concerned. But that changes with, say, outage information, where telephones beat the Web. Telephones—i.e., human-to-human conversation—also is preferred for bill resolution.

Again, electric utility customers appear to be no different than the customers of any other vertical industry when it comes to Web-based self-service options, as they want transactions that are secure, effective and simple. And they want technical support to be available.

My take: This animal known as the "utility customer" is indeed the mainstream consumer, although, certainly, more likely to be a fully employed head-of-household or bill payer as opposed to other consumer profiles. The utility industry has served "ratepayers" so long that some obvious insights may come as a surprise. That said, the vast majority do not use social media for energy-related interactions and they don't plan to. Conversely, about 13 percent have or will, which is a demographic that's likely to grow. (Presumably about the time I cash in my chips.)

One possible look back at the relatively low expectations created by a century of low-cost, virtually invisible is that 72 percent of U.S. customers are satisfied with their current electricity provider. That placed Americans second among 20 nations. How that jibes with the seven minutes that Americans typically spend each year talking to their utility, I don't know. Is it that the less time you spend, the more satisfied you are? Or is the correlation not causative, as in those who spend the most time on the phone are doing so because they're experiencing a problem?

(Frankly, that last conundrum reminds me of a coal miner I met in Northwest Colorado almost 30 years ago who was old enough to have seen Haley's Comet twice, in 1910 and 1986. He wore a tee-shirt that read: "I Seen It Twice." He averred that he had had a happy marriage, having spent a good deal of it underground, mining coal.)

Perhaps on that note, I'll leave you with some other findings shared by Accenture in the past year or so. The bottom line here is that the elusive quarry known as "the customer" is both familiar and a bit unpredictable, thus the value of research into electricity consumer perceptions.

"Accenture's Sharon Allan: After Smart Meters, What's Next?" described the strategic thinking that should precede smart grid-related roadmaps.

"Part II: Accenture's Sharon Allan: After Smart Meters, What's Next?" is simply the second installment in that conversation.

"Customer Segmentation and Tomorrow's Utility" suggested that bundling price and value for each customer segment would yield results.

"What Does Today's Electricity Consumer Want?" is last year's installment on the study of the "new energy consumer," also by Accenture.

And, finally, "Customer Behavior and Electricity Usage" presented 2010's findings in the same vein.

Bon appétit!

Phil Carson
Intelligent Utility Daily






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