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How Virtual Assistants Will Completely Change Your Utility World

Jessica Lin
Senior Solution Manager, UGBU Dev Prdct Marketing & Industry Strategy

You’ve probably asked your virtual assistants (or digital assistants, as they're also called)—Google, Alexa, or Siri—to play your favorite ‘80s music for a birthday party or tell you about the weather during a clearly rainy day. These virtual assistants (VAs) are there for the critical moments too—to get a deal on a new toaster or find “the best and cheapest” product to get that stubborn stain out of the carpet a.s.a.p.

But, sooner rather than later, you’ll also be able to ask your VA about your home energy consumption—and saving energy should be just as simple and easy as buying a new toaster.

While “simple and easy” isn’t a part of the traditional utility industry reputation, you can see that changing—both internally and externally. That old assumption (that utilities are slow to evolve) is falling away: more and more studies show utilities advancing on digital fronts. If true, they’ll be advancing faster toward that “simple and easy” concept (because that’s exactly what the consumer wants).

And, as we started out teasing, one consumer trend that utilities need to focus on is how a digital assistant works into that broader digital planning.

Why?

  • Because nearly one in five U.S. adults today have access to a smart speaker. (That’s nearly 50 million U.S. adults with the capability to seamlessly reach out to their virtual assistants to access key insights.)
  • Because over half of US broadband households will likely have a smart speaker with a voice-based personal assistant by 2021. 
  • Because 60% of smart speaker owners surveyed said that they’re “probably” or “definitely” interested in a utility app that makes use of voice-activated skills.

Here at Oracle Utilities Opower, we’re making energy management a top priority for our utility partners and all of their residential customers (including those eyeing VA capabilities, of course). Every year, we send over 120 million personalized tips, tricks, insights and suggestions to utility customers. So, we’re excited about all that virtual assistant can bring to the table—how they can expand the reach of every utility and open new discussions between modern utilities and their ever-connected customer base.

The inclusion of digital assistants into the energy management mix reinforces one of our underlying passions: to help every utility deliver accurate and actionable energy insights to customers while achieving predictable energy savings. The simple and easy world of VAs is a new way to reiterate that classic element of support we’ve always offered our utility partners—as well as giving us a glimpse into newer, better, faster, smarter, more personalized and even more immediate ways to do so.

As we move forward with experimentation, testing and pilots into the best ways to blend our proven insights into the right features for VAs, we continue to listen to our utility customers’ feedback, suggestions and concerns, and we continue to keep an eye on research into the phrases a customer may use. Will anyone actually say, “Alexa, how can I be more energy efficient?” Or, will they say instead, “Hey Google, what’s my energy bill?”

For us, it all rests in crafting the right nuanced nudge for the most expected response, getting your utility’s consumers from “what’s my energy bill” to being more efficient without them having to say all the right phrases to trigger all the right insights. The value isn’t in any VA response at all. It’s in the right VA response—one that prompts customer engagement and even a willingness to take action (which can be tricky).

We’re working on that.

The team at Oracle Utilities Opower is doing our part to better understand how people are using these new devices now—and how they may use them differently in the future. We’re enhancing our capabilities to effectively deliver energy insights and much more—in the language of your utility customers, the ones who prefer speaking to their energy use without speaking to a call center.

Together with other early adopters, we’ll transform the digital ecosystem and the future of home energy management with a simple phrase or two. We’re working hard to make it easy for your customer—and for you, too.

 

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