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GIS Elevates Utility Customer Care

Posted to Esri in the Customer Care Group
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Bill Meehan's picture
Director, Utility Solutions Esri

William (Bill) Meehan is the Director of Utility Solutions for Esri. He is responsible for business development and marketing Esri’s geospatial technology to global electric and gas utilities.A...

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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2021-07 - Utility Customer Care, click here for more

The utility world has shifted. Not that long ago, power companies focused heavily on asset management. While assets are still important, utilities are more and more becoming customer-centric. Why not? Consumers are so used to deliveries that happen the next day or sooner. Customers have more energy choices than ever before. Energy choice means utilities must focus more intently on those they serve. Understanding the relationship between customer behavior and network impacts is critical. New behaviors such as installing renewable energy resources or charging electric vehicles affect power supply and grid stability. Utilities must deeply comprehend their customers alongside the network that supplies their energy needs.

Modern utility customers are no longer just consumers. They are prosumers. That means they produce energy. They demand choice and information. Timely communication is essential. Utilities must give customers the data they want, when they need it, in the manner they choose.

Breaking Down Utility Silos

For years, utilities have addressed these needs on a departmental basis. Each department commonly implemented a point solution to manage its unique requirements. This was particularly true in customer care. Their software rarely integrated well with the solutions of other departments. As a result, they created silos. In these cases, customer care workflows remained fragmented. As a result, the data could become untrustworthy.

Maps and modern apps tell a complete customer story with colorful visualizations. They break down silos. They highlight connections. When embedded in websites, they provide customers with self-service options. Accordingly, communication with all stakeholders is greatly improved. Higher customer satisfaction and perceived value follow.

Exceptional customer care results when one business system provides a fully informed view of customer impacts – sharpening the customer relationship. Geographic Information System (GIS) provides the mapping, analytics, and collaboration capabilities required to increase customer satisfaction and value.

Do electric companies have the same kind of knowledge of their customers that online retailers have? Not nearly. Not yet. For most of their history, they didn't have to. Now they do and want to. It's essential to know a lot about customers. Not just to sell them something. But to serve them. Serving customers is good business practice, sure. But also, knowing your customer helps utilities in their day-to-day operations as well.

Location Matters

Location is an easy way to learn about customers. Sources such as census, demographic, income, homeownership, and real estate valuation data are widely available over the web. They all depend on location. These data sources are readily available as layers in the GIS. Combining these layers with utility data is simple with GIS. This process creates insight into customer behavior. In addition, Esri's Tapestry organizes US neighborhoods into 67 segments based on demographics and socioeconomic characteristics. Segments have unique names like Uptown Individuals, Bright Young Professionals, and Retirement Communities. Segmenting summarizes behavior. This helps utilities target outreach. It helps them understand the common patterns within each neighborhood.

In the display below, the color code gives the dominant characteristic of that area. In this case, Hampton, NH has 27% The Great Outdoors, 21% In Style, and 19% The Golden Years.

Each Region is Color Code by a Dominant Demographic

When users click on the data tab, they get a plethora of information about the makeup of that community – income, spending habits, population, likes, and dislikes. For example, the graphic below shows a few of their spending habits.

This graphic illustrates the power of Esri's ArcGIS Business Analyst. In addition, it shows regions of customer behavior that would be of interest to utilities. Examples include customers who are not interested in the internet or read newspapers or attend town meetings. As a result, utilities can learn how people spend money. They can learn what makes them happy and what irritates them. And how best to reach them.

ArcGIS Business Analysis Helps Utilities Effectively Market

Tapestry and Business Analyst data can be combined with utility data to fully embrace the similarities and differences in a utility customer base.

Here are some ways that GIS can help utilities gain a fuller understanding of their customers.

Improve Customer Satisfaction

Most utilities perform customer satisfaction studies. The bottom line is they get the answer to this simple question – on a scale of 1 to 5, how satisfied are your customers with your utility. So, if the number is 3.5 and senior management wants to increase it to 4, what strategies can they employ to do that?

Map the results.

Use GIS to bring all the data sources together, including segmentation. Then analyze the results to target improvement programs that match the data. For example, tree trimming programs can be very unpopular with specific demographics. Utilities can tailor their vegetation management programs to match customer segmentation and outage history. A one-size-fits-all approach might work with asset management. But it doesn't work with customers.

Focus Demand Response (DR) and Distributed Energy Resources (DER) Incentives

Demand response is good for utilities and customers alike. DER's (e.g., solar energy) can be good for customers and a mixed blessing for utilities. DER's can lower demand to defer investment but also lower revenue. The ideal situation for utilities is to target areas that need demand relief and where customers are most willing to do it. How do they find those areas? GIS. They can combine operational needs to those areas where customers are most open to green energy. Utilities can target their DR and DER incentive programs to people most likely to take advantage of them. And in areas that are most needed for operational improvements.

They can use GIS to target the ideal locations for EV charging infrastructure as well.

Increase Revenues

How can GIS increase revenues? My friend was an expert in the collection business. He told me this secret. "Don't waste time trying to collect money from people who don't have it." Sounds simple. During this stressful time of COVID-19, lots more people are not able to pay their electric bills. Utilities, using demographics and segmentation, can focus their collection efforts on those most capable of paying. GIS has the wonderful ability to combine data sources, see patterns and make connections. Once a utility turns over their delinquent accounts to a collection agency for pennies on the dollar, that revenue is lost forever.

GIS has also been effective at ferreting out energy theft. How? Combining data sources by location. It combines smart meter data, customer account data, and real-time operations data to pinpoint likely areas where thieves have by-passed meters.

Win-Win

For decades, utilities were asset-focused. That isn't bad. But the customer is rapidly becoming a shared focus. The best way to serve customers is to know them better, just like retailers. All customers are not the same. Their location, habits, preferences, politics, and hobbies are what make them unique. Utilities now have access to that information. GIS helps them do that.

For more information on how utilities can enhance customer care, click here. Keep a lookout for Esri's new Customer Care eBook, coming soon.

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Esri, the global leader in geographic information system (GIS) software, builds the most powerful mapping and spatial analytics technology available.
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Thank Bill for the Post!
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Paul Korzeniowski's picture
Paul Korzeniowski on Aug 30, 2021

Good point about the departmental challenges. Utilities broke tasks up into departments to increase efficiency. When the customer calls, they see one company rather than a series of interconnected departments. Breaking down wall and increasing collaboration among departments is vital to improve the customer experience. 

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