By Sam Shrank/GreenOrder
Utility operations are being forced to evolve as customer expectations shift, technological change continues and new players enter adjacent markets. As utilities chart their course in areas such as energy efficiency, smart grid, and distributed generation, they find themselves in unfamiliar positions. The second in our four-part series (See Part I by my colleague, Mat McDermid, Finding the Regulated Utility Role in a Shifting Energy Landscape), we discuss how utilities can leverage behavioral science research as they expand into markets where they are not a monopoly and customers need to be convinced about the benefits of the products and services offered.
Since setting up auto-pay the day I moved into my apartment, I’ve given no thought to my utility bill. Given that my job is to analyze and advise utilities, I’d venture to say most people are no more engaged. However, with an evolving set of customer offerings—energy efficiency (EE), alternative fuel vehicles, demand response, and the like—many utilities are realizing that they may require better, different, or more communication. In short, they are discovering what it means to sell.
And not only are they beginning to market things customers may not feel they need, they now have competitors as well, particularly in the EE market. Various other entities are looking to advise large electricity and gas users about how to lower their bills and provide help with financing, sell devices directly to customers that increase automation and control, or take over the utility’s role as the provider of EE offerings funded through utility bill surcharges. All of these reduce both the direct benefit to utilities from performance incentives and the indirect benefits from higher customer satisfaction, improved regulatory relationships, and perceived leadership.