Nexus of Energy Efficiency and Customer Service

Penni McLean-Conner, Chief Customer Officer for Northeast Utilities

Utility energy efficiency programs have increased by more than 550 percent since 1999.  Concurrently, utility customer service is also expanding with innovative customer service offerings which enhance customer satisfaction and improve service delivery while managing costs. Utility executives agree these efforts are rapidly converging and the 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.  A whitepaper by Oliver Wyman entitled ‘Is Energy Efficiency Losing Its Efficiency?’ notes that, “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. Customer Communications Utilities have long recognized their unique position of being a trusted energy advisor to customers.  Hence utilities have long-tapped into energy efficiency as a source for content for outreach and communications.  Energy efficiency is prominently featured on utility websites, printed collateral and marketing. New on the playing field are on-going 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 behavioral- based energy efficiency programs that proactively and regularly engage customers via a customized home energy report.  This report helps 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 real time and be provided with information and programs to address their energy needs via the portal. Customer Service Transactions There are a variety of customer service transactions that 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 audit programs and/or offer rebates.  Customers moving into new homes are often unaware of the energy usage. Additionally, these customers may be busy outfitting the home with new appliances. Clearly the high bill call is an opportunity to promote energy efficient solutions.  But with the advent of advanced metering, some utilities are proactively monitoring customer usage and providing them with alerts 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 the building plans are finalized. These projects are great leads and opportunities for the energy efficiency team. The trick is to have a process to capture and follow up on these leads in a meaningful manner.   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 to use in identifying customers and customer segments that are candidates for energy efficiency.  The behavioral-based energy efficiency programs which offer consumers home energy reports use a foundation of usage information from the utility’s CIS system.  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 not only customers to target but entire customer segments that are worthy of 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 its energy efficiency programs. Yet this customer group 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 areas being integrated, more opportunity abounds in customer communications, transaction management and data mining.
 Penni McLean-Conner is Chief Customer Officer for Northeast Utilities.  Penni has over 20 years in the utility business and is author of the book Customer Service: Utility Style and  Energy Efficiency: Principles and Practices. 

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