Innovative ideas for every utility

Closing the customer centric gap

Stephen Hill
Sr. Content Development Specialist

An opportunity exists for utilities to capture customer attention in ways companies never realized.

The electric power grid is becoming interactive, distributed energy resources (DERs), are expanding exponentially, and customers are enrolling in a myriad of utility programs that give them control over their energy usage.

The customer-centric grid is at hand, and utilities can seize the opportunity to put the customer front and center. This partnership can use the good will and stability that utilities have projected for more than a century. When it comes to energy, customer trust their local utilities more than any other source.

Developing this customer-centric mindset is critical to the continued success of utilities. But, how do we make that jump?

Customer centricity is all about executing and measuring to achieve customer outcomes. It’s analyzing customer needs and behaviors, and establishing strategies to give them more of what they want. It’s about responsiveness, anticipation, and it’s seamless.

However, giving them what they want isn’t just about offering the right products and services through their preferred channels. Customers want control and experiences that reinforce positive emotions, personal identity and a sense of belonging.

Because the utility brand is one of stability and safety, utility companies are well positioned to create experiences that cultivate these positive emotions. Fostering these feelings increases customer loyalty and moves utilities closer to their goal of becoming more customer centric organizations.

“We all strive to maximize positive emotions, enhance and express our identities, cultivate social relationships, and effectively achieve our goals,” says Erica Carranza Ph.D., vice president of consumer psychology at Chadwick Martin Bailey, a marketing research firm.

“Because these are core human needs, brands that help people fulfill these needs drive consideration, trial, loyalty, and advocacy. People are 30 times more likely to try a brand if they expect it to deliver strong emotional, identity, social, or functional benefits.”

Other hallmarks of a customer centric utility include:
•    Giving customers the tools and information to monitor and control their energy consumption and bill;
•    Analyzing large volumes of customer data for insights that can be shared across the organization;
•    Monitoring customer behaviors and delivering a personalized customer experience in real-time; and
•    Delivering new products, programs, and services with agility, flexibility, and speed.

Building customer centricity pre- and during Covid
For these reasons, utilities have driven themselves into transformation efforts that include everything from grid modernization, the digitization of customers and assets, to building distributed intelligence networks, power storage options, and vehicle charging stations.

But then, 2020 happened, and things got exponentially more complicated. Utility customers, working from home or struggling to pay their bills, force utilities to condense their timeline for delivering these priorities all while evolving towards more empathetic communications. And because the “new normal” is constant change, utilities don’t just have to move faster, they must transform their businesses towards an uncertain future.

Yes, it’s difficult, but not impossible.

Taking a dual focus
Utilities that actively and simultaneously concentrate on the horizontal axis (next level generation, infrastructure), as well as the vertical axis (DERs, customer-aided grid flexibility) and drive these insights into transformation initiatives, will be best positioned to fill the “moving target” that is the customer centricity gap.

Horizontal forces include the availability of resources, natural disasters and the state of the economy before, during and after 2020. They allow us to make educated predictions based on what we’ve learned from derailing macro events of the past.

Horizontal developments often drive vertical developments. These include how the events of 2020 have changed utility customer behaviors and preferences, and how they are impacting regulation. Proactively working with regulators to adjust policies to better support customer needs is critical.

CEA webinar invitation
The Canadian Electric Association (CEA) is helping utilities better understand horizontal and vertical developments during the September 17, 2020 webinar, Electric Utilities Post Covid: What’s Next and How Should Utilities Respond. As the corporate partner for this session, David DeMaio, Oracle Senior Vice President, will discuss the existing customer centricity gap.

Other panelists include:
•    Mike Aguilar, a Teaching Associate Professor of Economics at UNC-Chapel Hill, who will share macro-economic factors driving change;
•    Marisa Uchin, Vice President of Global Regulatory Affairs for Oracle Utilities to discuss their regulatory impact; and
•    Matt Frades, Senior Manager of Analytics, Oracle Utilities will share research into changing customer preferences and behaviors.

“Oracle’s customers have done a tremendous job adding the agility and flexibility into their business that is needed to traverse even more uncertain terrain,” says DeMaio. “We are looking forward to the opportunity to share their successes in the spirit of educating utilities facing similar challenges.”

A customer mindset is critical to the future of utilities, so closing the customer centricity gap should be a primary focus for utility companies now more than ever. While the gap is a moving target, there is hope for those who take the time to look up and simultaneously track horizontal and vertical developments. The CEA webinar is a good place to start.

“Customer centricity has been and continues to be of significant importance to our members across Canada” says Diana Dominique, Director Customer and Power Marketers with the Canadian Electricity Association.

“CEA welcomes the opportunity to learn from the experiences gained by Oracle and their extensive utility customers through their CEA Conversation Series Webinar, Electric Utilities Post Covid: What’s Next and How Should Utilities Respond.”

Oracle Utilities, including Opower, partners with the world's hardest working electric, water and natural gas companies to empower, enhance and enable your every single day. From cloud-native products and better grid management tools to support for every single step of your customer's journey, we have the answer. Learn more at oracle.com/utilities. Get specific product information as quick as clicking right here.

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