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PG&E turns direct outreach into a bump in SMB customer happiness

In the wide-ranging discussion about the wants and needs of the utility customers, we often forget the small and medium business (SMB) segment. It’s not large enough to get the big interests that large commercial and industrial (C&I) does, nor does it see the political or cultural discussions of residential customers.

But, SMB has unique customer needs that don’t fall into either category (but does have a few connections to both other categories).

Cali utility powerhouse PG&E wanted to look into their satisfaction numbers of SMB recently and shared the project lessons from that in their CS Week session “Utilizing Big Data to Enhance SMB Customer Outreach.”

The teams led by CS Week speakers Sarah Jin, Strategic Analyst, PG&E, and Tina Williams, Supervisor, Customer Care, Business Energy Solutions, PG&E, found a series of pain points around bill understanding and rates. So, PG&E kicked around a solutions strategy and came up with a direct one: Let’s call the ones who have shared their concerns and show them exactly the tools available to them to get a better handle on these bills and rates.

Jin created an evolving algorithm that selects customers to talk to based on basics such as valid phone numbers, geography, business types and 1-3 day load spikes and layered on additional data including average daily bill increases, billing date and even previous interactions.

Jin noted that the satisfaction score for SMB saw an increase over the timeline of the project, which she labeled an “early sign of success.” To get that success in another utility with a similar project, Jin suggested having data and analytics but also adding human insights must be added into those models.

Williams added that the prep and training process for those reps reaching out to the SMB customers was another key with this project’s success. Additionally, they noticed a positive response for PG&E reaching out proactively to these customers.

On each call, the reps walked customers through the process to register their account online so each customer could get a more detailed picture of their bills and usage—daily, weekly or monthly, however often the customer wants. The reps helped the customer avoid surprised by setting up details in the account, including notifications and alerts, as well as showing SMB customers how to review rates and run rate analysis.

Reps also showed SMB customers how to analyze their energy use to identify times and activities that may be impacting bills: Do you need to use timers? Is something cycling on while you’re closed that shouldn’t be cycling on?

Williams finished with adding that SMB customers, if they take action, could save those businesses up to 25% off their annual bills—just with the right behavioral change and energy efficiency programs—and this project, specifically saw a lot of positive feedback, including customers calling this simple outreach “a really great service.”


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