Utilities Not Ready for Coming Customer Engagement from Smart Grid

If the latest consumer backlash over smart meters in Texas wasn’t enough of an indicator that utilities are facing a communication problem around the smart grid, here’s another: a report from research firm IDC Energy Insights, and sponsored by telecom firm Telus, finds that utilities “have not thought through the implications of new technology and products on customer relationships or the business process.” In other words utilities are not at all prepared for the increased amount of communication, education and interactivity that will be required from installing new smart grid technology.

The report finds that the installation of smart meters will increase the amount of time that the customer spends on a utility web site, as well as the amount of customer service phone calls a customer will make. According to a survey that IDC conducted, 35 percent of utility respondents that have installed smart meters have seen an increase in call volume of between 10 percent and 30 percent.

But not only will customers seek to interact with utilities more around the topic of new smart meters and demand response services. The addition of variable, real-time pricing, and home energy displays also provides a direct channel for a connection between the utility and the customer like never before. IDC explains the overall shift that consumer-facing smart grid technology will bring as:

“The customer will be more engaged on a daily basis with the utility. The customer will no longer be a passive recipient of a bill, but an active partner in managing energy consumption and cost.”

However, instead of embracing this opportunity, IDC finds that utilities are head-down focused on building out the smart grid infrastructure, and are not spending adequate amounts of time and money planning out communication, education and customer service strategies for that smart grid infrastructure. “There has been little investment in customer contact aids such as live chat or training of customer service representatives to walk customers through the Web experience,” says the report. And only 60 percent of the utilities surveyed even have a consumer-facing website (see chart).

Image courtesy of P^2’s photostream Flickr Creative Commons.

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