Friday, October 23, 2015

The Strategy of the Consumer

This is a guest post by Nathan Shannon, Deputy Director of SGCC.

CenterPoint Energy has long been known as a leader in the energy industry in regards to customer engagement and satisfaction. They know that customer expectations are constantly evolving and in the past few years a new wave of engaged consumers have emerged within the market. Giving these consumers what they want is the number one priority of the Customer Experience team at CenterPoint Energy.

Last month at the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative 2015 Members Meeting & Interactive Workshop in Houston Gregg Knight, CenterPoint Energy’s Chief Customer Officer, gave an insightful glimpse into the strategy of the consumer according to CenterPoint. He spoke on how we have moved from the “electro-mechanical era” to the “digital era” and now to the “convergence era.” Today’s consumer has a desire to be valued by their energy provider. They want their time, their money and their preferences to be given weight and importance.

Knight talked about the primary attributes consumers want from their energy provider. First, they want proactive outage notifications via text, phone or web. Being aware of an outage and how long it will last is a key benefit of a modern grid. This empowers consumer by giving them the information in real time. Secondly, they want low-effort interactions. A simple pay-bill reminder or an email about a new program offered gives consumers the opportunity to interact with their utility with ease. Ease-of-use raises satisfaction and gives the consumer the option to be as engaged as they would like. Lastly, consumers desire a clear channel of communication. They want to know what the utility knows when the utility knows it. Transparency is the name of the game. Customers trust their utilities and they want to know that they are well informed at all times.

SGCC’s Motivations and Emotions of Engaged Consumers research key finding echoes Knight’s approach and goes one step further: highly-engaged consumers tend to cite more internal and/or future-oriented motivations for both their overall engagement and specific purchase/participation behavior. These motivations include providing for future generations and caring for the environment.

In contrast, low-engagement consumers tend to be more motivated by immediate present-oriented things like saving money, convenience, and control. So while messages about environmental savings and even financial savings are sure to be received positively, it is the practicality, affordability, and simplicity of these messages that will be critical to getting this group of consumers to try new and existing energy programs. This ties directly into Knight’s attributes that consumers want to low-effort interactions and ease of use when it comes to communicating with their utility.

CenterPoint Energy has developed a customer experience that is personalized and empowers each of their five and a half million customers.  Delivering a consistent and simple message through all forms of customer communication has helped them to achieve this goal. Many other providers in the energy world are using these same steps to show their customers just how innovative and engaging the smart grid can be. With the growth of a modern grid well underway the energy industry is poised to deliver the highest quality consumer satisfaction this industry has ever seen.

To learn more about SGCC’s consumer research and education join us at our 2016 Consumer Symposium: The Connected Consumer and the Future of the Grid.

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