Improving customer engagement has dual benefits for utilities, increased rate of return through rate cases and reduced operational cost by reducing customer support costs. Regulators granted utilities in the bottom quartile of customer satisfaction ratings a lower percentage of their requested rate of return than utilities in the top quartile, according to an April 2015 study by PwC. And Utility Dive reports “When properly designed, digital channels have a proven track record of eliminating entire categories of cost while improving the engagement experience.”
A leading customer engagement trend has been to move from providing static information via the utility’s website to proactive information via multiple channels including text. The trend has increased customer satisfaction, reduced utility’s operational costs through lower call volumes, and decreased peak loads, saving utilities and their customers money.
“Texas-based public power utility, New Braunfels Utilities, started using text messages to notify customers about outages in 2016. The year before that, the Texas utility reported that 68% of customers called in when there was an outage. A year later, that number had dropped to 16%.” – publicpower.org
“A utility in Nebraska saw a 50% drop in its peak load after it started using text messages to send out alerts to farmers.” – publicpower.org
Clearly notifications can save the utility money and improve customer satisfaction.
With the majority of utilities already having leveraged digital channels, what is the new frontier for utilities to continue on the trend of improved customer satisfaction? Here are two ideas.
Proactive Price Transparency
“Price transparency can put companies that practice it at a competitive advantage and lift a big weight from the customer psyche,” says Brand Quarterly.
Historically, proactive price transparency may not have been as important. Consumers are used to the seasonal fluctuations in their electric bill. Rates were relatively stable, and few choices were available that could greatly alter a consumer’s electric bill. That is changing relatively fast. Consider these statistics.
- Electric vehicles are projected to account for 7.6 percent of the market in 2026, up from just 1.2 percent in 2018. – statista.com
- In Q3 2019, the U.S. solar market installed 2.6 GWDC of solar PV, representing a 45% increase from Q3 2018 and a 25% increase from Q2 2019. – seia.org
- About half of U.S. investor-owned utilities have optional time varying rates for residential customers. New programs are being tested or talked about in at least ten states. – utiltydive.com
- Growth numbers in connected home as a category are strong; McKinsey found a compound annual growth rate of 31% from 2015 to 2017, and notes that “this is expected to continue in the years to come”. – mckinsey.com
This means that millions more utility customers will soon be investigating connected thermostats, time varying rates, EV charging options, solar and more. Proactive price transparency is becoming a priority. This presents an opportunity for utilities to invest in customer engagement initiatives to help utility customers make the best choice.
With the right technologies in place, Utilities can offer customers the ability to price their individual loads across multiple rate plans, while investigating EVs, solar and load shift. For example, a customer investigating Special EV Rate Plans, can provide the make, model, and average miles driven and see how their historic load, modified based on the planned EV purchase, would be priced across multiple rate plans. The customer would have the ability to do the same on a whole menu of options, including community solar, roof-top solar, and demand response plans. Disaggregation technologies can be integrated to provide specific and individual recommendations for the customer to change load behavior at the appliance level.
An Enterprise Rating Engine is a key enabling technology, providing the price estimates, through bill simulation, based on historic and modified load profiles in real time. It is the pricing engine to enable the customer to understand bill impact across multiple rate plans, as well as solar and EV. It provides proactive price transparency.
Similar to how bank and credit card companies provide daily account balances, with smart meters and an Enterprise Rating Engine, utilities can now do the same. Smart meter reads are typically uploaded from field devices nightly. An Enterprise Rating Engine has the capability to calculate customer bills at the rate of millions per hour. With this capability, utilities can provide their customers with daily bill-to-date information. Now, much like with a credit card, a customer knows how much energy they have purchased since there last billing statement. This provides further transparency and allows customers to better manage their energy usage and finances.
“A highly satisfied customer base can be a leading indicator of return on equity for utilities.” – jdpower.com
Utilities won’t stop on their quest to improve customer satisfaction; the stakes are too high. Proactive price transparency and daily bill-to-date are two powerful ways that Utilities can further improve customer engagement.