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The Struggle is Real – Increasing Customer Engagement

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Customers expect companies to use data to understand their needs and improve their user experience. Utility customers follow personalized Netflix recommendations for shows they will enjoy. "You watched all five seasons of Breaking Bad—try Better Call Saul." They appreciate that Amazon Prime conveniently anticipates when they need to order more vacuum cleaner bags. Leading utilities are getting in on the customer-satisfying action.

Utilities have by and large been in the asset business. They also send bills to their ratepayers. I never met a customer that thought of a bill as good service. Utilities often expect customers will familiarize themselves with the utility and then ask for whatever it is they want. After all, it is all easily discoverable on the website, right? Today, the industry is quickly moving from being primarily assetcentric to placing an emphasis on customers.

Most utilities conduct surveys and track a key performance indicator (KPI) for customer satisfaction. Consumer expectations in society are ballooning. Green Mountain Power (GMP) decided to increase this KPI.

According to Utility Dive, Mary Powell, GMP CEO, described the basis of the company's efforts—customer obsession. Breaking from the past, GMP proactively determined what customers would want. Astonishingly, GMP increased customer satisfaction from 50 percent to 94 percent.

Utilities need to think about everything they do and ask, "How will this affect the customer experience?" Thankfully, new tools provide better ways to understand and engage customers in meaningful ways.


Understanding is about finding out as much as possible about customers. They are more than just a meter. They are unique individuals. Benefit by understanding their characteristics, behaviors, and interactions with the utility. Bring together every bit of information that relates to the customer.

Utilities have loads of information that relate to customers. However, it is often scattered around the company. It is in places like the customer information system, SCADA, and even Twitter feeds. To this, add details like planned construction activities, tree trimming schedules, and rich demographics.

Build a data-driven customer 360a complete view of the customer from all the various utility touch points. Correlating data provides a solid understanding of widely variable customer experiences.


Develop greater insight into the causes and effects impacting customer relationships by using modern analytical approaches emerging from data science. One of the most powerful analytical approaches is correlation. Correlating operational data with demographics reveals how utility processes impact specific customers. Where are problems happening? What demographics are complaining? Understand what influences their perception of value and why.

Virtually everything a utility does happens at a place affecting some customers more than others. Because of this, spatial analysis and location technology yield essential customer insights revealing otherwise overlooked patterns. Patterns and anomalies show which customers need extra care. Predictions from machine learning anticipate future customer impacts. This process of discovery reveals where to adjust utility workflows to improve customer satisfaction.

Targeted Engagement
Different types of customers want different things from their utility. Where are those with a specific interest in community solar? Which customers honestly prefer not to be pestered with such programs? Targeting outreach to specific customers is a huge step in utility customer relations. It's a game changer.

A one-size-fits-all approach will never lead to a 94 percent satisfaction rating, like that of GMP. With data-driven understanding and analysis in hand, utilities can better target their engagement efforts. They can add value in ways that are meaningful to each customer. They can set up two-way communication in the customers' preferred channels. Austin Energy uses demographic customer segmentation to do just that. It marketed its EV charging rate to likely EV drivers. It was so successful, and they now use this approach in many other programs.


How can utilities delight customers and increase satisfaction KPIs by 20, 30, or 40 points? It will not result from stale assumptions about what customers want. Insights will come from dynamic learning—listening to the data. Personalize utility customer interactions just like Netflix.

The next time you find yourself in a corporate strategy session around how to improve customer engagement, remember the following:

  • Understand customers with data.
  • Analyze with modern tools.
  • Target engagement activities.

ArcGIS provides an outstanding way to bring data together in one place, apply location technology, and understand it. Then, turn it into colorful pictures to visualize it in ways that people understand.

For more information on how ArcGIS helps utilities improve customer engagement, visit our customer engagement webpage.

Pat  Hohl's picture

Thank Pat for the Post!

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Esri, the global leader in geographic information system (GIS) software, builds the most powerful mapping and spatial analytics technology available.


Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Nov 14, 2019 10:52 pm GMT

It will not result from stale assumptions about what customers want. Insights will come from dynamic learning—listening to the data. Personalize utility customer interactions just like Netflix.

This strikes the target, I think. I've spoken to people who work in the energy industry who admit they don't look at their utiltiy energy portal or give a second thought to their energy bill when it comes in-- so how can we expect the non-energy professional customer to pursue engagement themselves? Utilities using the treasure troves of data they have to lead their customers where they should be going needs to be the default

Mike Cassity's picture
Mike Cassity on Nov 20, 2019 3:11 pm GMT

Thanks for the post. Good info here.

Robert Lilley's picture
Robert Lilley on Nov 20, 2019 7:46 pm GMT

Great post Pat! In my role as Customer Engagement Manager for GE Digitial I am hearing these stories all the time: How can we help our customers with new connections? How can we help our sales team provide service? How can we let our customers know about outages caused by extreme climate events?

Susan Brissette's picture
Susan Brissette on Dec 28, 2019 10:01 pm GMT

I found this post insightful. I wonder whether there is also an opportunity to focus on building trust, as well as engagement (and value!). Do you think customers have a higher expectation of privacy and trust from their utility compared to other services, such as Netflix? I'd be interested in any links related to that aspect of customer relationships by utilities, in particular as it relates to digitization. 

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