Hydro Ottawa currently serves 320,000 customer accounts, which represents approximately 900,000 people in Canada’s capital region. We are fully smart meter deployed and time of use implemented, and offer a number of enhanced services to our customers, including electronic billing and MyHydroLink, a self-serve online portal for customers. Currently, 40 per cent of customers use our MyHydroLink service, and 28 per cent of customers receive their bills electronically.
Our customers are especially interested in how we are focusing on and meeting their needs, particularly in regards to billing, outages, and accessible communication.
Some of the questions we have to ask ourselves regarding billing include:
Are we doing everything we can to keep our costs low while serving our customers?
Have we determined the optimum mix of outsourcing?
Are we harnessing technology that will allow us to maximize our productivity?
Compared to the older, traditional meters, we now collect 1,500 times more data for bill production with smart meters. The complexity and speed of issuing bills has dramatically changed.
Customers of the future will continue to demand timely and accurate billing, even though the task of delivering bills has become, and will continue to become, more challenging.
To help customers manage their expenses, the industry should consider providing customers with a 24/7 web-based dashboard for customers, allowing them to manage their account information; change their address if moving; review their billing options and electricity usage (hourly, daily, weekly); change payment methods; and set up automated account alerts. We must also provide conservation and demand management programs to help guide and influence our customers to use our product. Regarding outages, the utility of the future will be much more automated, integrating the capabilities of SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition), Distribution Automation and Outage Management Systems to provide the most reliable system possible. We must also invest in smart outage communications systems that can proactively inform our customers of ongoing outages, their time of restoration, the number of customers affected and the cause of the disruption.
As we open up our communications channels, customers are telling us that they want to do business with us through their preferred communication channel – their choice and in their way. No longer is it a one way conversation – the old way of doing things. Our customers are unique. They are no longer rate payers. They are individuals, each with their own preferences in how they wish to engage with us.
Are we providing all of the choices that our customers are demanding?
Are we providing various channel options such as telephone, natural language IVR, text, e-mail, chat, Facebook, web, and LinkedIn?
In the case of outages, are we letting our customers tell us how they want to be communicated with? Whether it’s a planned or an unplanned outage, do they want to receive notification via text, email, telephone, but not between 10 pm and 6 am?
Do we offer a responsive design website that allows our customers to access us from any device of their choice, regardless of whether it’s a desktop computer or mobile tablet?
How are we preparing to deal with new entrants encroaching into our space? Are we ready for behind the meter solutions? What about electric vehicles, smart homes, distributed generation and storage, and enhanced automation?
We must envelop our customers with an experience that shows that we are caring, efficient, knowledgeable and easy to do business with while managing upward pressure on our operation, maintenance and administration costs. It’s a huge challenge that is both daunting and invigorating and one that I know our industry is rising to.
David McKendry is director of customer service with Hydro Ottawa and chairs the Customer Council of the Canadian Electricity Association.