GIS Helps Utilities Know Their Customers

Posted to Esri in the Digital Utility Group
image credit: Photo 122780381 © Techa Tungateja |
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...

  • Member since 2002
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  • Mar 17, 2021

Do electric companies have the same kind of knowledge of their customers that on-line retailers have? Not nearly. For most of their history, they didn’t have to. It’s important 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, home ownership 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 about customer behavior. In addition, Esri’s Tapestry organizes U.S. 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 help utilities target outreach. It helps them understand the common patterns within each neighborhood.

Utilities can learn what people spend money on. They can learn what makes them happy and what irritates them. And how best to reach them.

Tapestry 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. 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 certain demographics. Utilities can tailor their vegetation management programs to the match customer segmentation and outage history. A one-size fits all approach might work with asset management. But it doesn’t 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 where there are 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. Using demographics and segmentation, utilities can focus their collection efforts on those most able to pay. 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 locations where thieves have by-passed meters.

Win – Win

For decades utilities were very 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 same. Their location, habits, preferences, politics and hobbies are what makes 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 visit our customer care website.

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