Utilities are embarking on a transformative period at present. Having had to pivot to ensure the needs of consumers are being met, utility companies have had to adjust to savvy customers who want more informative communication as well as interactive capabilities. Gone are the days when consumers only cared about receiving their bills in the mail with a transactional utility company. Now customers want to know how to manage their power usage best and if their power company is taking steps to be environmentally mindful and community-minded. All things considered, then what does the future look like for utility companies?
Neil Strothe, the principal research analyst with Guidehouse Insights, recognises the challenges utilities face, but he also sees the silver lining. If managed correctly, the challenges can create opportunities to engage with customers more, which would have potential benefits such as enhancing customer loyalty and satisfaction. “Opportunities for remote customer engagement primarily target residential customers and include revamped home energy reports, remote audits, and thermal mapping. These solutions are matched by developments, such as augmented reality, designed to remotely engage commercial and industrial customers,” Strothe said.
Technology will be an essential element used to promote customer experiences, but what are the other factors to consider? Dr. Kannan M. Munisamy, Lead of Business Interface & Partners, Customer and Market, and the Distribution Network for Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB), observed that yes, technology must be utilised and implemented but only after careful analysis before being rolled out. “Well, I [perceive] it will [be] people, process and last [it] will be technology. The first two components must be thoroughly studied and analysed before implementing the technology because the impact of the technology must deliver the value of customer lifestyle and customer empowerment,” he said.
From a TNB standpoint, the Malaysian utility has adjusted its approach by offering enticing programs and other benefits because it has seen a dramatic change in consumers’ expectations. Enabled by advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), additional benefits were rolled out such as viewing consumption, options to use the budget option on budgeting monthly bill, and future discounts and promotions on the TNB app as another way to ensure customer satisfaction. “From the implementation of AMI or meter data empowerment to customers, they can embark onto many flexible offerings as the market forces or customer demands. The customer satisfaction or customer feedback can be from two ways, either to evaluate the implementation of the new initiatives or overall realization of AI and data empowerment to customers holistically,” Munisamy of TNB said. This ties into what the utility is doing on a company level which was shifting the focus from the status quo to supporting the community and was highlighted in a MSN.com article and quote: “As the nation spent the last 12 months combating the COVID-19 pandemic, TNB did everything it could to support the government’s efforts to control the spread of the disease. All at no extra cost to consumers.” TNB is not the only utility company to take a more holistic approach to new business practices, and many others will be sure to fall in line.
Previously, when the customer’s expectations were purely transactional, power companies did not need to concern themselves with consumer’s expectations. Still, George Hunt, the Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) for Smart Energy Water (SEW), believes the current changes to the way utilities do business are by and large a good thing.“I think one of the biggest challenges that utility companies are facing worldwide is to provide a great customer experience for their consumers and also a great employee experience for their workforce.” Hunt went on to say that he is starting to see a real change from fairly limited direct customer interaction to progressive utilities actively seeking out and interacting with the conscientious consumer about wider environmental matters. “Now we’re moving to a level where it’s maybe less about the customer and more about the citizen. What I mean by that is if we think of the consumer as a person that flips the switch, turns a tap [on], the consumer who pays, we could define those as the customer perhaps because we bring in the affordability factor. But actually, I really like the idea of the citizen, [meaning] the citizen that lives in a community [who] lives in the environment has a family thinks about the future generations, etc. I think that’s, that’s where it gets really exciting,” Hunt said.
In conclusion, technology will play its part during the transition utilities are undergoing but at the heart of the matter and the reason for the new approach is the consumer. As Hunt from SEW said during our filmed interview, it revolves around bringing it all together, technology, consumer, and workforce, to bring about a new customer experience and a better one at that.