In April 2018, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted an historic message: “Every single village of India now has access to electricity.” While electricity has not yet reached every household in India, this was still an incredible milestone for a country that four years earlier recorded more than 18,000 villages without electricity.
Only two years later, in April 2020, Modi’s message to the people of India was different: “turn off your lights.” This time the message supported a different goal: Modi asked the people of India to turn off their lights for nine minutes at 9:00 PM on April 5th and light traditional oil lamps to “challenge the darkness of coronavirus.”
Intended to be a symbolic gesture of support for COVID first responders, these nine minutes also became a unique nationwide experiment for India: how would the electric grid, and utility customers, respond to this call to action in those nine minutes?
The answer from the nation’s people was incredible: across India, 31,089 MW of power were conserved during the switch-off event, around 27% of the typical national electricity demand at that time. Grid operators responded magnificently to the event, effectively managing the grid and reducing supply without any incident during this unprecedented drop in demand.
The symbolism behind these events in 2018 and 2020 is striking: in a short period of time, the question has gone from “Can India deploy the electric grid across the country?” to a new question: How can Indian utilities harness customer behaviors and actions in new and interesting ways?
A new customer-centric strategy for Indian utilities
The event from April 2020 shows that customer behavior matters, and can have a big impact on the electric grid. The new energy customer is shifting from a passive consumer of electricity to an active participant in the grid. In short, Indian customers will respond to a call to action from utilities when it is presented in a relevant, actionable way.
In the April 5th “lights off” event, the Indian grid operator originally forecasted a 15 GW reduction in demand, but actual customer participation resulted in a more than double 31 GW demand reduction during the event. The Indian customer is ready to engage with their utility, so what should Indian utilities do?
Globally, the grid is becoming increasingly customer centric, and we can see the beginning of the customer-centric grid emerging in India as well. As customers adopt more distributed energy resources, home energy management systems, and smart appliances, utilities are realizing that they must put the customer at the center of their business. Leading utilities are engaging their customers in new ways to harness the power of these new customer behaviors.
Taking steps for customer benefits
By considering customer engagement programs that utilities are implementing around the world, we recommend the follow steps for Indian utilities as they transition to a customer-centric model:
1. Don’t wait, start now. What is the one action you wish your customers would take right now? By developing a strategy and investing in an engagement platform that puts customers at the center, you can start to redesign your customer experience right now. Evergy is a great example of a utility that decided to put “customer choice” at the center of their strategy, and rolled out a creative new customer engagement program to support this strategy. This North American utility measured increased digital channel engagement, decreased costs to serve, and observed customers sharing positive stories on social media about their utility.
2. Build customer engagement plans into smart meter rollouts. Most utilities fail to achieve benefits promised in smart meter rollouts because they fail to fully engage the customer. For example, in the state of Victoria, Australia, the state realized only 2.5% of customer benefits planned in the initial business case for smart meter rollouts. By developing a smart meter customer engagement strategy, Indian utilities can realize many customer benefits from an AMI rollout.
3. Engage regulators in the process. Regulators are ready to support utilities with cost recovery when there is a ‘win-win’ program for the customer and the utility. Customer engagement programs can create a win-win opportunity. Oracle Utilities has a regulatory team focused on working with utilities in India, and has identified a massive potential for Indian utilities to rollout customer engagement programs and receive support from the regulator for doing so.
4. Take an agile approach with cloud-based technology. As utilities shift to a customer-centric paradigm, they need to be more agile and be prepared to adapt quickly to changing customer interests. Traditional on-premises software takes too long to implement and you will always be behind the innovation curve. The right cloud-based customer engagement platform will constantly evolve to support and help you respond quickly to emerging customer demands.
Some utilities in India are leading the way in the shift to a customer-centric approach, and likewise are investing in customer engagement platforms as part of their strategy. As more and more customers connect to the grid and start to engage with their utility, now is the time to rethink your relationship with your customers.
Tomorrow’s leading utilities in India and around the world are defining their customer-centric engagement strategy today.
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