Elena Johnston and Charles King accepting the Utility Partner of the Year Award at Customer Edge 2020
Transformation is a constant topic at Evergy.
There are several reasons for this all-consuming narrative at the heartland electric utility. First, Evergy is still transforming after the 2018 merger between Westar Energy and Great Plains Energy (parent of Kansas City Power & Light), and second, the Kansas City based utility is intent on changing how it connects with its 1.7 million customers in Kansas and Missouri.
As Evergy merges its legacy systems, the utility also takes on the challenge of introducing new technology features to its customer base. It’s part of a three-legged stool that Charles King, chief information officer for Evergy, discusses with employees and partners.
“I often talk about the three legs of the stool concept,” says King. “It’s about daily operations, keeping the lights on, and secondly we’ve got our own initiatives underway related to the merger.”
“And the third one is innovation and the level of change that we must undertake,” says King.
The innovation, and transformation, occurring at Evergy encompasses every level of the organization. And King thinks it should be top of mind for every employee.
“That’s the easy one to lose sight of in the long run,” says King. “We run the risk of fully consuming ourselves with day-to-day operations, and large merger consolidation projects.”
King emphasizes that Evergy can’t afford to ignore transformation technologies, and then realize in five years that another company has snuck behind the meter and delivered the features its customers are seeking.
“We have residential customers in our urban areas that are tech savvy,” says King. “And they’re interested in time-of-use rates, and the ability to manage their bill.”
“It’s hard to do everything at once,” says King, “but the biggest single challenge is the human resource, both with our employees, and reaching customers.”
One employee focused on bringing innovation to the customer interaction is former intern, and now six-year employee Elena Johnston, spends most of her time thinking about delivering new features to customers, and how to communicate the value to those same customers.
The main influence for Evergy customers includes rate coaching and behavioral load shaping, concepts that can save customer dollars, and energy.
““We proactively send a rate report (to customers), and that basically says, ‘hey, you now have options’,” says Johnston, senior product manager. “This is a cost-effective strategic engagement strategy that reaches customers.”
Those willing customers receive reports outlining different rate plans, tips and hints on lowering energy costs, plus they’re in a two-way communication with Evergy. These communications put decision-making into customer’s hands, a new position for both the utility, and its customer.
Evergy customers responded with a resounding response: embracing self-service, enrolling in energy efficiency programs, and acting on the coaching tips from the utility.
“These tools were an effective mechanism to enroll customers,” says Johnston. “And it did what we hoped it would do, which was educate customers, provide transparency, and drive that change we were seeking.”
“The best result is that these initiatives create efficiencies for the company, reduces costs, and delivers a better experience for the customer,” says Johnston. “You have a lot of space to communicate, and it’s transparent because the price is right in front of them.”
Granted, not every residential customer seeks time-of-use rates, or wants to enroll in energy efficiency programs. There are many satisfied paying their monthly bill while the lights stay on, and the appliances continue running. But more, and more customers are moving toward greater involvement with Evergy.
“There’s a lot of diversity within our customer base, especially residential,” says King. “Part of our challenge is to make sure that we can appeal to and serve all those different customer types.”
Which means that ultimately customers are driving transformation at Evergy, not just employees adopting new technology for the sake of change. Energy savings, better communication with customers, and more satisfied customers. That’s transformation both parties are pleased to make.
Hear Elena Johnston talk about her love of offering lots of choice to her customers in this short video (2.5 min.), and watch Charles King discuss planning, people and culture in this short video (2.5 mins).
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