Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Smart Grid Customer Engagement Success Stories

By Patty Durand

Last week’s webinar on our new report, “Smart Grid Customer Engagement Success Stories,” illuminated numerous principles and practices that any utility can implement.

(The report is
available without charge to SGCC members and at a nominal fee to non-members.)

Joining me on the call were Pat Charles, Smart Grid Customer Solutions Manager at San Diego Gas & Electric, and Bill Bell, Technology Director, Analytics & Data Services, at CenterPoint Energy. Both utilities are featured in our report.

Based on those utilities’ successful practices – as well as at Okahoma Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison – the SGCC developed seven principles that any utility can and should implement in its customer engagement programs.

I’d like to remind readers, particularly at utilities, that SGCC research has established that a broad swath of the American public – the “silent majority,” in my view – has a keen interest in their home energy practices and how they’re connected to the bigger world of utilities and their energy practices. Admittedly, not every utility customer is so motivated. But the so-called silent majority is large and diverse enough to provide a willing audience – a major opportunity – to utilities that make the effort to educate and engage them.

I happened to participate in the webinar from GreenTech Media’s Networked Grid conference outside Los Angeles, where I held another well-attended panel to spread the word. One participant there put the issue into perspective: “We’ll see more customer engagement in the next few years than we have over the past century.”

Our report describes seven (7) takeaways that bear mention here:
  • educate customers prior to technology deployments such as smart meters,
  • anticipate and answer their questions,
  • take your message to civic groups, schools, wherever people gather,
  • advise your customers on how to shift their usage to manage costs, if you’re implementing time-of-use rates,
  • make your Web portal user friendly and content rich,
  • provide in-home technology that can inform customers of their energy use,
  • gather customer testimonials and tell your own stories.

When these seven principles are coordinated into holistic programs, any utility can improve its customer engagement and satisfaction levels.

Our new “Success Stories” report is filled with how-to examples. For instance, CenterPoint trained 1,500 of its employees as ambassadors to their communities, able and willing to answer energy-related questions from their family, friends and community. Southern California Edison composed 68 Q&As in an FAQ format for its customers. Too much information? No, our research documents that you can do too little, but there’s no such thing as too much when it comes to helping your customers manage their energy use.

Pat Charles at SDG&E mentioned ideas such as the importance of building “community credibility.” SDG&E sent knowledgeable utility representatives into the field with meter installation crews to personally address questions and concerns. And he mentioned that holding energy-related contests broadens the audience for engagement.

Bill Bell at CenterPoint also cited contests, ambassadors and engaging civic groups. That’s remarkable, given that CenterPoint is a “poles and wires” company without a direct customer relationship, but with responsibility for smart metering. Of 2.2 million meters installed by CenterPoint last year, only 38 accounts refused a new meter, Bell told us. CenterPoint even performed a “Myth Buster” campaign that provided the hard facts to counter misinformation.

The upshot: we know what works and we’re offering a roadmap to implement effective practices. We’ll feature two more success stories in the near future.   


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