Small and medium businesses (SMBs) consume an estimated 20 percent of U.S. energy, yet account for less than five percent of utility energy efficiency savings as they often fall into a middle ground between residential customers and large commercial and industrial (C&I) customers.
Particularly during a time in which SMBs are being disproportionately impacted by economic shutdowns in response to COVID-19, utilities have an unprecedented opportunity to cultivate trusted energy advisor status with SMB customers by providing meaningful savings solutions.
At the same time, while utilities themselves look for ways to achieve pre-pandemic energy efficiency goals in the face of pandemic-related shifts in energy usage patterns, the previously untapped SMB market provides an opportunity to achieve and even exceed efficiency savings benchmarks. In fact, the latest Accenture New Energy Consumer “Serving Small and Medium-size Businesses” research report* estimates that an average-size regulated energy provider could unlock as much as $10 million to $15 million net savings over a five-year SMB digital transformation program.
Just as Bidgely’s AI-driven residential disaggregation science has transformed residential customer satisfaction, energy efficiency, grid planning and more, utilities can leverage UtilityAI to better serve and engage with their small and mid-sized commercial customers during this time of heightened budget sensitivity and long into the future.
It Starts With Insights and Personalization
In the same way that Bidgely’s patented machine learning technology uses residential meter data to create the world’s most accurate residential customer energy profiles across 100+ attributes, our UtilityAI platform analyzes commercial meter data to deliver actionable insights for every SMB customer in a service territory and help utilities understand more about each unique business customer.
Until now, utilities could only rely on inferential modeling to predict what appliances might be present within a business based on the business type — i.e. making assumptions based on whether a business is a restaurant or a physician’s office, for example.
UtilityAI flips this thinking on its head by leveraging meter data analytics to more accurately characterize the business type, detect what appliances are in use within that business during what hours and on which days, and identify how customers and employees behave and interact with those appliances. Where previously the sheer number of SMBs meant utilities weren’t able to provide personalized attention, now AI makes it possible. Even in environments in which there is a significant amount of occupancy change over time within an individual site, UtilityAI can pinpoint exactly the type of business that occupies any given building. These insights inform detailed customer energy profiles and similar business comparisons at the neighborhood and regional level.
This next-gen approach mirrors recommendations by Accenture. To unleash trapped SMB value, the report says, utilities should “leverage data and digital to enable connected personalization. With a 360-degree view of SMB customer preferences, energy usage history, location information and other contextual information, it becomes possible to anticipate needs and serve up actionable insights.”
The report goes on to say that 42 percent of SMBs identify “seeing products and services personalized to their business needs and preferences” as the single most important factor in determining their customer satisfaction, and that establishing personalization-based SMB customer satisfaction can serve as a gateway to trusted energy advisor status where utilities advance beyond kWh supply to provide SMB customers with advice, tailored energy rates and savings recommendations, and relevant energy products and services.
UtilityAI empowers utilities to craft offers and recommendations that are hyper-personalized to individual businesses on a one-to-one basis to meaningfully boost customer satisfaction and facilitate the transformation from commodity provider to long-term energy advisor. Far beyond detection, UtilityAI can also determine the relative efficiency and time of day of appliance usage, opening up opportunities for a wide-range of recommendations and personalized offers that deepen the relationship that energy providers are able to have with their SMB customers. Focusing on the right sort of engagement strategies on a per-class and individual basis yields far greater ROI than historic one-size-fits-all commercial programs.
Digital Channels that Deepen Engagement
The Accenture report also emphasizes that “SMBs have a very strong preference to use online channels for all their energy provider interactions — from signing up to new products and services to receiving energy savings recommendations.”
With an omni-channel approach to customer engagement, UtilityAI enables utilities to engage with SMB customers through the channels they prefer, including web, SMS and email. Though digital channels are the primary focal area for expanding relationships with commercial customers, we also enable an enhanced, personalized paper experience for those cases in which paper remains the best way to reach certain customers.
A Simpler and More Successful Participation Pathway
With the power of personalization and digitalization in place, utilities can leverage UtilityAI to break down some of the most common barriers to SMB program success — whether those be utility program misalignment or customer-side barriers to participation such as capital constraints, limited staff bandwidth/energy expertise, or a tenant vs. building owner mindset.
With greater understanding of the issues faced by each individual customer and insights as to the full-range of offers most likely to resonate, utilities can micro-target commercial programs for small and mid-sized customers, engage with them as an advisor and achieve greater success at lower acquisition and marketing costs.
For example, understanding not just whether or not a building has high loads during peak times, but specifically which appliances are driving those loads establishes a customer intelligence foundation upon which a customer’s communication journey and front-end assets are designed to maximize the success of energy efficiency programs. In place of blanket promotions, UtilityAI easily identifies things like whether or not a customer’s lighting is in use outside of normal office hours, and makes possible customer communications that promote simple behavioral changes or lighting control recommendations to solve the issue.
In many cases, traditional commercial retrofit programs have been misaligned with businesses who lease or those with modest operating budgets. Because UtilityAI identifies loads and inefficiencies on a business-by-business basis, it allows utilities to promote retrofit opportunities that make sense for both building owners and tenants, including information about PACE or other financing programs where appropriate.
Similarly, DSM programs gain when UtilityAI is able to detect anomalies such as high HVAC loads or higher temperature set points outside of operating hours or any other usage that stands out against a business’ normal patterns. A personalized digital high cooling alert that lets a customer know that cooling is outside normal boundaries together with recommendations for corrective action yields better engagement.
Such communications also provide an opportunity to educate commercial customers in a highly relevant way about demand charges and other rate issues and how such issues will ultimately affect their bills.
An SMB customer’s participation pathway might also include interaction with a utility marketplace — both in connection with product purchases as well as various contractor initiatives. The Accenture report forecasts that when it comes to SMBs, offerings for innovative product and service opportunities include beyond-the-meter offerings such as automated energy management services, distributed energy resources such as solar and battery solutions, and installation and maintenance services will be key to utility success. When product and service recommendations are highly relevant, presented in the context of personalized savings opportunities and made simpler through digital channels, they are more likely to achieve program goals and generate essential revenue.
UtilityAI empowers utilities to more successfully educate and engage SMBs to generate greater and lasting value for both commercial customers and the utility during COVID-19 and long beyond. To learn more about how you can both better serve and unleash the value of SMB customers, explore the latest webinar or visit bidgely.com/solutions/small-medium-business.