Centric’s Energy and Utilities leads Laura Gousha and Mike Murphy headed to sunny Phoenix for the annual Chartwell’s EMACS Conference, an event focused on sharing utility best practices in the world of customer experience.
Each year, Chartwell’s EMACS Conference attracts hundreds of utility professionals, service providers, and software developers who come together over four days to share their insights, lessons learned, and best practices. Several prominent trends emerged from the conference, each highlighting a different aspect of the utility industry’s transformation and drive to empower customers.
Trend One: Rate Flexibility Empowers Customers and Enhances Operational Efficiency
With increased customer empowerment, utility rate plans are evolving to cater to changing customer preferences and consumption patterns. Utilities offer various rate plans to meet customer usage requirements and patterns.
During the conference, several utilities provided information on the increased adoption of time-of-use (TOU) rates. According to the Chartwell 2023 Residential Consumer Survey, half of consumers have expressed interest in participating in TOU rates, with the highest interest observed among younger and higher-income customers.
Several factors drive this trend, including increased customer interest due to the growth of smart homes and electric vehicle (EV) adoption, potential cost savings for consumers, as well as utility-side load balancing needs. GridX shared statistics indicating that 71 percent of utility customers enrolled in rate plans could potentially benefit from switching to a better-suited plan.
Rolling out an effective TOU program involves several core steps for utilities looking to capture its benefits, a few of the most pertinent have been highlighted below:
Understanding Customer Needs
Utilities must design TOU programs and rates that align with the operational goals of the utility and the needs of many customer personas. They should conduct extensive customer research to understand the potential benefits, challenges and needs of customers as part of the initial planning stages of a TOU program.
Developing and Sustaining the Required Technology Infrastructure
The appropriate technology must be in place to enable a successful TOU program. This includes both advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and a distributed energy resource management system (DERMS). Robust data management systems and accompanying strategy must be in place to collect, store and analyze customer usage data. This data is critical for accurate billing, customer engagement, and program evaluation.
Moreover, customer relationship management (CRM) software can enable the utility to provide effective marketing communications to customers. Customer information and billing systems must be capable of accurately calculating TOU charges based on customer usage patterns.
Ensuring Regulatory Compliance
Utilities must ensure their TOU program complies with local, state and federal regulations.
Customer Engagement Tools
Utilities must provide customers with tools and resources to monitor their energy usage and make informed decisions. This may include customer portals, mobile apps, and real-time energy consumption information. These tools help customers understand how TOU rates impact their bills and how to adjust their behavior accordingly on a real-time basis.
Customer Education and Outreach
Effective communication with customers is crucial as TOU rates are not often easily understood. Through compelling storytelling that emphasizes both cost-savings and environmental impact, as well as providing demonstrative tools such as bill prediction calculators, customers can learn about the TOU program, its benefits, and how they work.
Utilities presenting at the conference shared their outreach techniques which included email communications, bill inserts, enrollment incentives, paid media, commercials, and more.
Customer Assistance Programs
To promote energy equity objectives, utilities should consider offering financial assistance or subsidies to low-income customers who may be disproportionately impacted by TOU rates.
Trend Two: Empowering Utilities in the Realm of Electric Vehicles
Electric vehicles (EVs) have gained significant traction as a viable mode of transportation, and a clear component to a sustainable future. Demonstrating this increased demand, in the Chartwell 2023 Residential Consumer Survey, nearly half of consumers are interested in EVs, which represents a significant uptick from years past.
Given the natural impact on the grid as it relates to electrification and consumer demand, utilities play an increasingly pivotal role in this transition. Utilities can benefit from EV promotion as they seek to meet their sustainability and decarbonization goals, generate new revenue streams, meet regulatory requirements to meet energy efficiency goals, and so on.
Conference participants discussed several areas of focus:
The Development of Data and Communication Networks
Utilities are actively working on the development of advanced data and communication networks to support vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) communications and infrastructure. These networks are vital for optimizing EV charging, integrating EVs into the grid, and ensuring overall efficiency.
The Deployment of Customer Empowering Digital Tools
To enhance customer engagement and awareness regarding EV usage, utilities are deploying mobile applications and other digital tools that empower the customer. These digital tools provide real-time information on charging status, help consumers locate charging stations, and provide easy access to billing and payment information.
Encouragement of Time-of-Use (TOU) Adoption
The growing adoption of TOU pricing models within the industry aligns well with the proliferation of EVs. TOU pricing can have a positive impact on grid stability and customer satisfaction, making it an essential aspect of the transition. Efficient charge management is crucial in balancing grid loads and reducing peak demand.
That said, despite the opportunities presented, some notable challenges remain for utilities looking to increase customer adoption of EVs. Those challenges include interoperability issues, scalability of the grid to support increased needs, regulatory and compliance considerations, and building customer trust.
On the consumer side, issues concerning the cost of EVs, the lack of charging infrastructure, range limitations, and car features continue to serve as barriers to rapid adoption.
Trend Three: Utilities Should Work to Create an “Unforgettable” Customer Experience
Based on Pragmadik CEO Andrea Belk Olson’s compelling keynote address, EMACS attendees received the opportunity to think beyond the current customer experience they are providing today. According to Olson, “Unforgettable CX” is the combination of meaningful, unexpected, genuine and proactive service.
Some key points included:
Measure Emotional Satisfaction
Relying on customer surveys only measures rational satisfaction. Utilities need to look beyond the one to five and one to ten range scores or strictly looking at net-promoter scores (NPS). They should gather and gain insights from the narrative responses from customers, usability testing, and holistic customer research. This is where you can find meaningful feedback to help improve CX.
Applying Cognitive State Awareness to Each CX Interaction
Utilities need to understand how a customer will react to a given topic or situation. Reactions follow either the peak-end rule, framing effect, loss aversion bias, and rhyme-as-reason effect. Awareness of the likely cognitive state the situation will cause will allow utilities to design a CX that drives the desired customer behavior and reaction. Common situations could be a late bill notification, an extended outage, and so on.
Value Story Differentiation
Focus more time and emphasis on what makes your organization unique in the world of customer experience. Utilities often think meeting their traditional internal performance metrics is sufficient.
In a digital world, where every service provider is alongside everyone else, taking the time to be even a little unique can go a long way towards improving customer satisfaction. This starts with the utility’s customer value statement. Here is an example of a value statement transformation:
- Traditional Utility Customer Value Statement: We deliver safe, quality service to our customers at low rates.
- Non-Traditional Utility Customer Value Statement: Alongside our commitment to safety and quality service, we believe in empowering our customers to control their energy future – reducing costs and reducing harmful waste. We are your energy partners, today, tomorrow and beyond.
EMACS provided an excellent forum to explore the dynamic and ever-evolving landscape of utility services and ever-evolving customer demands. As utilities continue to adapt and innovate, these trends will shape the path toward a more sustainable, efficient and customer-focused energy future.