When I don’t get the service I want, I look for a better alternative.”
This comment from an end-user of a Texas utility crystallizes the issue of customer churn that utilities in competitive, deregulated markets now face. With market deregulation laws winding their way through legislatures around the world, utilities are faced with a new challenge. They must provide excellent service at a low price or customers can switch to an easily available alternative. The benefits of decreasing churn are clear when we consider that the utility margin from a customer is more than $300 per year in a number of markets across the globe. For a utility with 1 M homes, a 5% reduction in churn will save more than $15 M every year. And if that weren’t enough, the strategies that protect against churn also lead to more engaged and satisfied customers for regulated utilities.
The drivers of churn can be divided into two categories: high, unexpected bills and poor customer service. Both lead to surprised and disappointed customers and result in customers seeking other energy providers. Utilities and energy providers can improve customer churn thanks to an unlikely combination: smart meters and big data analytics. By themselves, smart meters provide incremental improvements to customer service due to their ability to improve billing accuracy. Applying detailed analytics to the stream of data from these meters yields tremendous results. For example, analytics can identify individual appliance loads and provide the basis for personalized energy savings recommendations.
A personalized energy portal and app leverages smart meter data analytics and is a key way that utilities can reduce churn resulting from unexpectedly high bills. Showing users in real-time how much energy each of their appliances are consuming allows them to track the energy use and true cost of each appliance.
Still, without easy access to information, all the analytics in the world won’t keep your customers from switching. That’s where a great user experience becomes a huge factor. Consider these snapshots of Bidgely’s HomeBeat Web & Mobile app –
With a few swipes customers can determine:
- How much energy they’re using for the whole house
- What each major appliance is costing them
- Their current kWh reading
- Energy used or money spent on energy by time of day, and
- What they can expect to pay for energy at the end of the billing cycle.
Behavior prompts are more powerful as well when you give customers personalized information at the appliance level. Here’s a screen grab showing how heating usage stacks up against similar homes. Again, at a glance, customers see their appliance costs compared to their overall bill AND similar homes.
So in a few seconds and a couple of swipes customers are assured, informed, and empowered. It’s not a long engagement, but it’s the right engagement.
Utilities can also leverage their smart meter infrastructure to improve customer service. Offering services to consumers such as energy portals not only improves customer awareness of energy usage, but also builds brand loyalty.
But what happens when consumers don’t like what they see? The best possible thing to do is give them the tools to understand what’s happening. This next image shows HomeBeat Agent. It’s a collection of widgets that, if deployed to customers, enable them to understand why their bill is high, and in many instances eliminate a call to the utility Call Center altogether.
With Agent, customers can determine if their high bill is caused by an increase in use or cost, whether the weather played a big factor, or perhaps if a particular appliance (e.g., air-conditioning) had a major increase. They can even look at average use on a day-to-day comparison. These simple graphics inform and empower the customer to help them help themselves and build a stronger relationship with their utility.
Utilities may opt to deploy Agent only to their customer service representatives in whose hands it becomes a powerful tool in resolving customer inquiries. Highlighting high energy usage on an appliance-level basis and providing customer insights to customer service reps can reduce high bill disputes and improve customer satisfaction – and move customers online.
Utilities around the world are learning what it takes to maintain customer satisfaction in a deregulated environment. Reducing unexpected high bills and enhanced customer service are powerful tools that reduce customer churn. Smart meter data analytics play an integral role in both activities.
Guest Blogger – Jon Biagiotti