Utilities can feel the change in the air. It’s different from any change they’ve previously experienced because it’s being driven by customer choice. With the proliferation of solar, smart thermostats, electric vehicles, and home automation, as well as the emergence of lower-cost battery storage, customers have more energy-related options than ever before.
These choices are likely only the beginning of a broader disruptive revolution that utilities will face in the coming years, and they generate important questions such as how can utilities transition from their current reactive market position to one in which they’re driving the dialogue with customers? How can utilities become a trusted energy partner instead of just an energy provider? Are utilities focusing on the metrics that will help them become essential in tomorrow’s energy marketplace?
Successful utilities will need to take a holistic approach to customer needs and start thinking of customers as proactive business partners who are capable of supporting a wide range of utility goals.
Utilities must place customers at the center of their business strategies, planning initiatives, and implementation efforts if they hope to remain relevant to future energy consumers.
Luckily, utilities have a head start in this transition because of two major advantages.
Utilities have been interacting with their customers via demand side management programs for years. Research shows that utilities can increase customer satisfaction and brand trust by offering energy-efficiency and demand-response programs. According to E Source research, a higher proportion of customers who participated in three or more DSM programs in the previous year gave “excellent” or “very good” customer satisfaction ratings than those who did not participate in a utility program. Given these findings and the maturity of many DSM departments, DSM programs can and should serve as the foundation for the next generation of customer-engagement strategies.
Utilities are already a trusted source of information for their customers. When asked who they trusted most to provide information on saving energy in their homes, residential customers most commonly selected their utility—26 percentage points higher than any other group, including their colleagues, friends, or neighbors. Business customer sentiment was even more encouraging: About 6 in 10 business customers selected their utility as the most trusted resource for energy-efficiency advice, according to E Source research.
Will all utilities need to embrace a holistic service model that seamlessly incorporates new value-added services, options, and partners into its business? Maybe not right away, but every utility should understand that for the successful utility of the future, it won’t just be about delivering good products and services, but how those products and services are delivered. The change in the air stems from increased customer choice and empowerment, so let’s build on our strong DSM foundation to create integrated solutions that customers want and utilities need.
Matthew Burks is E Source vice president, strategy and new products.