The average power customer in the developed world thinks about their utility for just 13 minutes a year, according to Miguel Antoñanzas, President and CEO, Viesgo. “When they think about us, it's what we call 'the moment of truth,' because something is going wrong.”
Counterintuitively, those moments aren't when the lights go out, he said, because customers understand that. Rather, a breakdown of some kind - a misunderstood bill, unexpected charges, a poor or delayed response to concerns - prompts the unhappy customer to reach out. “It means there's something broken in the relationship.”
Antoñanzas and his fellow panelists at the 2017 KPMG Global Power & Utilities Conference talked about how to better anticipate pain points like these, as well as discussed their progress in serving increasingly sophisticated customers in the utility of tomorrow.
Technology-fueled disruption presents a challenge, but also a chance for utilities to capitalize on change, according to John Flynn, Head of Global Strategy & US Development at National Grid in the United States. “There is a huge opportunity for those companies that get on the front foot, rebuild their processes around customers in a digital-enabled world, become much more agile, and begin to provide solutions for those customers as they start to try to take control of their energy consumption.”
Advances in digitalization, data analytics and other capabilities are allowing utilities to expand their menu of offerings to give each customer what he or she wants; from rooftop solar and storage to enhanced home and business energy management.
“We clearly have a growing portion of our customer base whose expectations are much closer to the expectations they have for their handheld device, for their Netflix - that sense of immediacy and that sense of control,” Flynn added. “What we think of as disruption, they think of as the norm.”
However, home energy technologies such as smart lighting are only just starting to catch on. “Some customers are interested, but you need to make it as easy as possible for them,” said Tony Cocker, Chairman, Infinis Energy.
“It's not obvious to consumers today what these opportunities will be in the future,” added Melissa Reynolds, Chief Customer Officer at Australia's AGL. She referred to research that suggests only about 5 percent of her company's customers would be interested in a connected home, with about 18 percent somewhat interested. “I think the future of the connected home is going to be a fairly slow burn.”
Cost efficiency could become a factor in the speed of adoption, she said, noting that Australia has experienced significant increases in retail pricing. “That's motivating customers to look more carefully at their energy plans. If that trend continues, then customers will start to seek out the convenience factor of smart homes and connected homes, but they will also be looking for value for money.”
Reynolds added, “I think we'll have a major role to play in educating customers as to what the benefits are. But they don't know what they don't know just yet.”