by Penni McLean-Conner, NSTAR
Utility energy efficiency programs have increased more than 550 percent since 1999. Concurrently, utility customer service also is expanding with innovative customer service offerings that enhance customer satisfaction and improve service delivery while managing costs. Utility executives agree these efforts are converging rapidly and successful utilities will be the ones that can optimize the nexus of these programs.
The question is whether utilities are optimizing the natural nexus between the energy efficiency and customer service efforts. An Oliver Wyman white paper, "Is Energy Efficiency Losing Its Efficiency?" notes, "In many cases, energy efficiency programs are set up and run separately from the rest of a utility's customer service efforts. As a result, efficient efforts often are not aligned with overall customer strategy and planning, business processes, and or organizations, diminishing these programs' overall effectiveness." Utilities interested in capitalizing on the natural nexus of customer service and energy efficiency should look specifically at customer communications, customer service transactions and customer data mining.
Utilities long have recognized their being trusted energy advisors to customers. Hence, utilities long have tapped into energy efficiency as a source for content for outreach and communications. Energy efficiency is featured prominently on utility websites, printed collateral and marketing.
New on the playing field are ongoing customer engagement platforms that allow a utility to reinvent the way it interacts with customers. The acceleration of energy efficiency programs and the advancement of the smart-metering infrastructure are fueling the development of these new engagement tools. Examples of these include behavioralbased energy efficiency programs that proactively and regularly engage customers via customized home energy reports. These reports help customers track and save on their energy bills. Utilities with advanced metering infrastructures are opening ongoing communication and engagement with customers via portals where customers can view usage in real time and find information and programs to address their energy needs.
Customer Service Transactions
Customer service transactions provide a natural opportunity to promote energy efficiency. A service turn-on request is an example. For customers moving into new homes or apartments, this is a great time to promote energy audits, rebates or both. Customers moving into new homes often are unaware of the energy usage. In addition, these customers might be busy outfitting their homes with new appliances.
A high-bill call is an opportunity to promote energy-efficient solutions. But with the advent of advanced metering, some utilities are proactive, monitoring customer usage and alerting them on trends that are above expected levels. This provides another opportunity to marry this customer service with energy efficiency offerings such as rebates or information about programs.
From an energy efficiency perspective, identifying new construction early is a great opportunity. If a new building is built without the consideration of energy-saving enhancements, the opportunity to serve that building again is lost for many years. New construction projects are often on the radar screens of utility engineering and operations folks long before building plans are finalized. These projects are great leads and opportunities for energy efficiency teams. The trick is to capture and follow up on leads. These types of transactions are handled in utility customer service or operations areas.
Customer Data Mining
Utility customer information systems (CIS) collect and maintain valuable customer transaction and usage data. This data set is a gold mine for identifying customers and customer segments that are energy efficiency candidates. The behavioral-based energy efficiency programs that offer consumers home energy reports use a foundation of usage information from their respective utilities' CIS systems. As utilities try to tap into the huge savings opportunities in the commercial and industrial market, analyzed usage data along with customer data can identify customers to target and entire customer segments worth targeting.
For example, analysis of usage data stored in a utility's CIS and energy efficiency participation data stored on the utility's tracking system identified food service companies as being underserved by the utility's energy efficiency programs. This customer group, however, represented a significant portion of the commercial market. This insight allowed the utility to redesign program outreach to target the food service industry with programs and case studies appealing to that particular vertical.
Utilities are wise to understand the nexus of energy efficiency and customer service within their own operations. While there are many great examples of the two integrating, more opportunity abounds in customer communications, transaction management and data mining.
Penni McLean-Conner is the vice president of customer care at NSTAR, the largest investor-owned electric and gas utility in Massachusetts. McLean-Conner, a registered professional engineer, serves on several industry boards of directors, including the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and CS Week. Her latest book, "Energy Efficiency: Principles and Practices," is available at http://pennwellbooks.com.