For decades, the utilities sector has managed to stay clear of the massive digital disruptions affecting almost every other industry on the planet. It’s not exactly a surprise. Most utilities providers are massive monopolies
offering inelastic products to customers that have little choice but to purchase at any price point. When you have no competition it’s easy to eschew the “innovate or die” mentality that defines so many other businesses.
Innovation is Forcing Transformation
But much to the chagrin of these established players, transformation has finally arrived in the utilities sector.
Smart energy solution providers like California-based venture Spirae have introduced IoT enabled energy monitoring systems into traditionally analogue infrastructures. These devices give consumers real-time feedback about energy consumption, usage trends and machine performance across different zones and devices.
Based on this information, consumers can identify where and how energy is being used at all times, which in turn gives them the ability to reduce usage by disconnecting power-hungry devices when they are not needed. These resources can then be redirected to support more critical activities at a different time or location. This is the first step to creating a smarter and more efficient energy grid.
Ultimately, these capabilities should pay off in the form of reduced utility costs, less infrastructure load, and of course less environmental impact.
Distributed Energy Supply
Spurred on by environmental considerations, decreasing product costs, government incentives, and regulatory requirements; commercial and private users alike are looking to integrate renewable energy sources like solar and wind. Coupled with rapidly advancing storage technologies, these new energy sources pose a real and present threat to traditional utilities.
How Utilities are Responding
A 2016 survey of utility employees across the United States revealed that many of these companies are well aware of the need to change their business model. Initial steps towards this change are likely to involve new revenue streams and investments including:
- Energy management services offered to customers.
- New solar products for communities and companies.
- Implementing a charging infrastructure for EVs
- Increasing energy storage capabilities
- Investing in a decentralized system of microgrids.
But with strict regulatory models, aging workforces and outdated infrastructure to contend with these changes will be difficult to implement.
However, there is still time to embrace new technologies and incorporate them within your core business. Most utility industry disruptors are still in their nascence, with renewable energy sources still being offered through independent providers rather than major brands that can put their financial muscle behind marketing and distribution. This means that utilities still have the option to evolve in order to improve their efficiency and expand their customer base.
Creating Customer Engagement
As customer awareness increases and legitimate alternatives begin to enter the market, utilities are facing up to growing churn rates for perhaps the first time ever. In New Zealand an estimated 20-25% of customers are now freely switching between different utility providers in search of the best services. The opportunity cost of losing these established customers is up to 8 times the initial cost of acquiring them, with this in mind, customer engagement and retention has become a key focus for many utility providers.
A recent report from PWC breaks this objective down into three main engagement areas.
- Streamlining and optimizing customer interactions across every touch-point.
- Personalizing customer services through CRM tools and analytics.
- Delivering helpful information to customers proactively in order to help them to reduce consumption and improve energy efficiency.
Creating an Omnichannel Experience
All of these objectives can be accomplished through a comprehensive omnichannel strategy that can integrate data from all customer-facing channels including: CSR feedback, social media noise, mobile apps, as well as payment and usage records. These insights can be used to identify customers that are highly likely to churn. Data can also be used to identify specific customer preferences for products and services, and to tailor personalized offers and marketing campaigns for these customers.
Mobile apps provide a clear front door to create more engagement opportunities with customers. While these tools can obviously be used to pay bills, resolve queries, and check up key metrics for energy consumption and tariff rates; utility providers can make use of mobile interfaces to send real-time notifications when usage rates spike, or to provide proactive explanations for power outages.
At Visual Room we look to put many of these design principles in action to create more compelling customer interactions across a range of industries. To find out how we can help your organization increase collaboration and end-to-end functionality, get started here.