The Internet of Things (IoT) is catapulting the energy industry into a new era of products and services, and the demands and expectations of utilities are rapidly changing. According to the IDC, energy utilities are currently the third largest investor in IoT ($66 billion) and this will alter how these companies interact with their customers. As an 80’s kid, I am reminded of a memorable song by Stereo MCs entitled Connected. The song’s chorus goes:
If you make sure you’re connected,
The writing’s on the wall,
But if your mind’s neglected,
Stumble you might fall…
More than ever, our connections with people, places and things drive and define who we are and what we do. These connections are directly impacted by the IoT explosion across our society. Back in 2008, more “things” were already connected to the internet than there were people in the world, and the momentum of this trend has multiplied over the past 10 years.
We live in a world where consumer data are growing rapidly. Nearly every behavior on the internet is tracked, wireless devices constantly share our location and activities, and smart appliances disseminate troves of data into the ether. And, by some accounts, global data are expected to double every two years for at least a decade.
While this is not a new phenomenon, the impact is still hard to understand. Thanks to this explosion of data, many energy utilities have access to exponentially more customer information than just a few years ago, and this information is often used ineffectively, and in some cases, not used at all. From detailed demographic and profiling data, program participation histories, and rich behavioral data, the opportunities for market research insights are immense.
It’s no wonder that many utilities are looking to leverage these data to build custom online panels and Market Research Online Communities (MROCs) to support their research needs. Both offer a means of gaining quick and valuable insights without having to negotiate some of the more challenging aspects of market research, namely, sample preparation and respondent recruitment. Continue reading
At Market Strategies, we’ve recently seen an uptick in utilities wanting to better define and manage their brand. I recently sat down with Claire Maglione, New Jersey Natural Gas’ (NJNG) manager of customer experience, to discuss how they’ve approached their brand work and why it’s important even for a regulated utility like NJNG. Below is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.
Why is brand important to a regulated utility like New Jersey Natural Gas?
Claire: Typically, a company uses a brand to differentiate itself from competitors. For most energy utility companies, that doesn’t necessarily hold true. In our service territory, customers can choose their natural gas supplier, so in that sense there is competition, but they cannot choose the company who delivers it. For NJNG, the importance of brand is a matter of being viewed as a trusted source: to safely and reliably provide natural gas to homes and businesses, enable customers to easily conduct business, educate customers on energy-efficiency, make products and services both affordable and available and be a good community partner.
Does the average person shop for energy products through their utility? We know that customer preferences for shopping, particularly for Millennials and Gen Xers, is shifting toward online or mobile phone and away from traditional “brick and mortar” stores—51% of Americans think shopping online is the best way to shop (source: Big Commerce). But, how does that translate for utilities? Consumers embrace new products, adapt to new services more quickly and spend significant time researching and comparing online shopping options prior to making purchases. Product reviews and word-of-mouth opinions carry more weight than ever, and visual representations including product displays are expected to “come alive” during the purchase process. Such changing consumer behavior requires that traditional marketing tactics evolve to meet these shifting consumer demands, and utilities are not the exception. Continue reading
Recently, we announced our 2017 Environmental Champions to highlight the utilities that have developed effective approaches and struck a chord with their customers who like to hear about the dedication of their utility to the environment. These utilities are, in turn, rewarded with high Brand Trust and Customer Satisfaction scores.
The recent massive ransomware attack struck industries across the globe and exposed worrisome weaknesses in the computer defenses of even the most sophisticated international corporations. While there are no reports to date of utilities being struck by the WannaCry virus, consumers’ confidence in the ability of any organization to keep its system safe has been badly shaken.
Cybersecurity has long been on utility officials’ mind: The sniper attack at an electric substation and a holiday cyber-attack scare on an electric utility are a couple of events that keep cybersecurity on the forefront. So, the WannaCry incident serves not so much as a wake-up call as it is a confirmation of the urgency of guarding against cyber threats. But it’s also an opportunity to communicate with customers about what you are doing to protect against and prepare for such an attack.
I recently sat down Don Hodson, head of customer experience (CX) at Georgia Power (GPC), to discuss how GPC is maximizing the effectiveness of its CX program. For energy brands that are working hard to create a positive, seamless experience for its customers, Don’s insight might just spark an idea that can be applied to your company’s strategy. Enjoy!
Can you explain GPC’s customer experience goals and the specific issues you’re trying to solve with research insight?
Don: Georgia Power has a strong reputation with our customers already so there is little value focusing on improving a customer sat score from 8.5 to 8.6. Rather, we look at all the interactions customers have with GPC—the channels they use, the issues they have—to identify where there are barriers to resolution or where we force them to make extra effort. Then we focus on how to mitigate those issues to reduce customer effort. Not only does this improve customer sat but, in many cases, it also identifies opportunities to decrease operational costs.
Solar roadways have captured the public’s imagination – see, for example, the viral “Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways” video produced by Solar Roadways and viewed more than 22 million times. And we certainly do use a lot of land for roads and parking lots – 61,000 square miles by some estimates. So why not use this space to also produce power?
Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky once attributed his uncanny ability to read plays to, “I skate to where the puck is going to be.” That concept applies to utility chief customer officers and CX professionals; those who are tuned into consumer expectation trends understand where their “puck” is going to be.
Cogent Reports’ Utility Trusted Brand & Customer Engagement (UTBCE) study is designed to understand customer engagement from a holistic perspective encompassing brand trust, product experience and operational satisfaction, but this blog post offers a simpler framework for customer experience. First up is marketing, which allows you to tell your customers what they can expect of you as a utility. Second, and just as important, is the actual experience customers have interacting with you—and where they judge whether your marketing was truthful or just blowing smoke.
We recently released our 2016 Utility Customer Champions, which awards gas, electric and combination utilities nationwide that have the highest scores on our proprietary Engaged Customer Relationship index. Among this list are 26 utilities that have “three-peated,” meaning they’ve been designated as a Customer Champion every year since we started these awards in 2014.
Here’s what sets these utilities apart, and what your utility can do to get on the path of enduring customer engagement: