Utilities need to change how they deal with customers as they roll out more smart-grid technologies, but they can avoid pitfalls by paying attention...

Utilities need to change how they deal with customers as they roll out more smart-grid technologies, but they can avoid pitfalls by paying attention to what other energy companies — and other industries — have done so far.

That’s the main message in the latest report from the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC), an alliance of consumer electronics and technology companies, retailers, utility firms and consumer groups.

Starting with a look at 150 smart-grid programs across the US, the SGCC narrowed its focus down to 21 utilities to prepare the report, “Excellence in Consumer Engagement.” The study reached three conclusions:

  • The utility industry has now learned enough collectively from its early experiences to establish some basic tenets for effective smart-grid customer engagement;
  • While energy remains a “low-awareness” topic for most people, utilities can build interest through simple messages to define benefits and call customers to action; and
  • Fully engaging customers will require utilities to “transform their core service model” from focusing mainly on reliable delivery of electricity to paying greater attention to customer needs and communications.

Utilities can further ease that transformation by modeling their customer relationship strategies on those that have worked for other industries such as consumer electronics and telecommunications, the report adds.

“As utilities have launched Smart Grid programs, they have for the first time acted as a sales organization looking to drive opt-in participation,” the report notes. “As Smart Grid programs make the transition from pilots to footprint-wide offers, utilities have begun to develop channels through which to promote and enroll customers in these programs. Some utilities have already seen promising results from three channel opportunities: customer sign-up, internal referrals, and third-party referrals.”

In addition to adopting customer programs long used in other industries, utilities will also need to measure the success of those programs in similar ways, paying attention to the cost of acquiring customers, churn rates, etc., the report added.

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