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Lighting Up The Utility Industry at the Intersection of IoT & CX

By Arti Loftus
February 26, 2020

The adoption of digital energy meters by utility companies has been one of the greatest success stories in the dynamic and fast-growing IoT industry.

According to David Green, Research & Analysis Manager – Smart Utilities Infrastructure, IHS Markit, “A paradox exists within the electric utility industry - vendors and utilities are uncertain about making a clear decision for their ‘IoT strategy,’ yet almost 900 million smart electricity meters will ship from 2016 to 2023.”

Smart meters, which are being implemented by thousands of the world’s electrical energy service providers, have taken a decade or two to take off truly, but according to IHS Markit research (Electric Grid Managed Services Report – 2018), “over $1.2 billion will be spent on just meter-to-cash focused AMI managed services during 2016-2023, as utilities take advantage of these new vendor propositions to better achieve their ROIs.”

Utilities, especially in the U.S. market, are engaged in competitive battles unlike any they’ve experienced, as incumbents are being confronted by challengers following the deregulation of the energy industry, and given the “commoditized” nature of electric energy (in fact all energy types, including natural gas, solar, wind and geothermal) they have no choice but to compete based on Customer Experience (CX) by providing a great experience to go along with the service.

Digital meters make so much more possible, as they generate data that can be shared not only with the utility itself, to drive usage and billing processes, but by the customer who can now view usage on a mobile app, for example.

These mobile apps have been proliferating and hugely successful, enabling customers to not only view their energy usage and related costs for electricity but to actively conserve by adopting “smart home” products (appliances, lighting, HVAC, and more).

The providers who are tapping into this “connected lifestyle” are finding ways to understand and meet the needs and preferences of the Millennial generation, as a driving force behind modern energy conservation using digital interactions (Millennials are “digital natives” having been born in 1982 or later).

Utilities have an extraordinary opportunity to develop and utilize customer information, and with the ongoing evolution of cloud and “big data analytics” are personalizing customer interactions to make that “customer journey” more intuitive, cooler, and more competitive. 

The Institute for Electric Innovation in a report published in December of last year said smart meter installations have grown dramatically since 2011. “As of year-end 2018, electric companies had installed more than 88 million smart meters, covering nearly 70 percent of U.S. households. Based on survey results and approved plans, estimated deployments are expected to reach 98 million smart meters by the end of 2019 and 107 million by year-end 2020.”

Smart meters, or advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), are digital meters that measure and record electricity usage data hourly, or more frequently, and allow for two-way communication between electric companies and their customers. According to their survey, more than 50 investor-owned electric companies in the United States have fully deployed smart meters. “Smart meters provide a digital link between electric companies and their customers by opening the door to new and expanded services, such as smart home energy management, load control, budget billing, usage alerts, outage notifications, and time-varying pricing,” all which can be combined and orchestrated into a more convenient and attractive CX.

We caught up with Greg Weber, Chief Technology Officer at Eventus, a contact center and customer experience company based in Colorado, which works with hundreds of large enterprise clients, and partners across a broad ecosystem of technology companies, to find out what the future of CX in the utility industry will look like when data from smart meters, for example, can be integrated into the interactions between the utility and its customers.

Weber is speaking this week in Dallas to a gathering of innovators in the utility industry, coming together to discuss the future of CX.

“The opportunities for utilities to compete based on a CX that is dramatically enhanced with data and technology are huge,” Weber said. “When we combine the data being collected by smart meters, for example, with data being collected from customers based on their personal preferences and behavior, we can orchestrate and truly deliver what we call productive, predictive, and personalized experiences. From the contact center and CX perspective, building blocks are already put in place and proven, including Channel Engagement Engines, Managed Experience Systems, and Performance Management Modules.”

Weber explained that with the proliferation of data combined with multiple channels for contacting companies (voice, web, mobile, social, and more), customer CX transitions have become complex to manage. “In order to deliver the kind of intuitive, instantaneous, and innovate experience Millennials and other generations are now expected, orchestrating the customer experience in what we call an ‘engagement journey’ is key.”

“The work being done in the utility industry with respect to mobile apps that enable consumers to understand and control their consumption of energy is incredibly exciting,” Weber said, “and that experience naturally blends together with their overall experience – whether that is being able to ask a question and have a chatbot return the answer, or whether that is being able to reach an expert with a single tap – a human being who has all the information at their fingertips and can have a meaningful conversation with the customer about how to reduce their costs.”

With the integration of digital meters to billing systems, Weber says utilities are becoming far more profitable by automating more and more of the billing process, including the adoption of credit card payments, which make traditional paper invoices and costs a thing of the past.

“It’s not enough to attract more customers and keep existing customers in this increasingly competitive industry,” Weber said. “To be profitable and to thrive, making all operations more cost-efficient can make a huge difference to financial performance, and simplifying the CX and customer service process contributes to this. Technology and the orchestration of the customer journey will continue to play a significant role in the modernization of – the complete transformation of – the relationship between utilities and consumers, as well as the businesses they serve.”

Weber stated that while contact center technology has come a long way, customers still experience excessive hold times only to connect with a customer service representative who may leave them dissatisfied.

“With businesses hyper-focused on best-in-class engagement through CX, including the energy industry and mobile devices being the customers’ interface of choice, the current state of contact center service is deficient,” Weber said. “Customers expect an orchestrated, frictionless experience, on their terms, in a way that provides positive outcomes in the context of their personalized journey.”

Weber explained that even though contact centers have matured, too much complexity has been created, resulting in much of the customer experience coordination being manually performed by the CSR, leaving the customer experience inconsistent, prone to error, and subject to lack of CSR knowledge. 

“The desired CX must be orchestrated by technology allowing the CSR to serve as the human touch to the process as opposed to serving as the process coordinator,” Weber said. “To effectively achieve this orchestration, all the components need to move beyond mere integration and be synchronized to optimize customer engagement. With an Orchestrated Customer Experience, CSRs can focus on being people-oriented, which we have found results in a significantly positive impact to the customer experience and reduces labor complexity and cost while improving contact center operational metrics across the board.”

There is a multitude of opportunities for IoT providers in the utility and industrial spaces, and the best way to dig into those opportunities and make those partnerships happen, is to attend the Industrial IoT Conference, taking place in Miami, February 2021.

Arti Loftus is an experienced Information Technology specialist with a demonstrated history of working in the research, writing, and editing industry with many published articles under her belt.

Edited by Ken Briodagh
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