Historically, utilities have engaged their customers in energy efficiency programs that result in one-time impacts – such as incentivizing businesses to replace incandescent lighting with compact fluorescent, or encouraging residential customers to modernize their appliances to more energy efficient, Energy-Star-rated models. While these programs have been effective, outreach typically has been of the “blast” model – customers are repeatedly encouraged to do one thing; communication is one-way (from utility to customer); and communication ends after the single goal is achieved. As utilities face a steepening curve of energy efficiency targets, they increasingly seek to engage the customer in an ongoing, two-way conversation regarding a variety of methods for reducing energy and saving money. Here at C3, we call this model “continuous energy improvement.”
Achieving continuous energy improvement requires a robust software solution that aggregates and analyzes complex energy usage data in order to communicate and present the related energy savings recommendations to customers in a straightforward, intuitive fashion. All utility consumers: residential, small and medium businesses, as well as large commercial and industrial organizations share the same desire to save money by reducing energy consumption; however, the means by which they consume information and achieve energy improvement differs by customer segment.
- Easy online access, anytime. Residential customers want more than just their utility bill replicated online. Provide them with a rich, online portal that provides historical usage information, recommendations about improvement, and access to tailored information.
- Keep it simple. While the analysis may be complex, residential consumers don’t want that complexity displayed to them. They want high-value, easily grasped information that is communicated in everyday English. They should know immediately how much money they are saving and how much they could save if they took action. The list of recommended actions should be few in number and prioritized according to the customer’s particular needs.
- Provide “automatic” customization. Recommendations need to be tailored to the customer’s needs without the consumer having to provide much information up front. This requires that the utility’s software partner incorporates information from industry-standards databases and other information sources, so that recommendations can be offered proactively. As the consumer does provide information over time, the customization can be refined.
- Provide instant gratification. Simply waiting for next month’s energy bill to see if it has gone down or not has not proven enough to satisfy today’s consumer. A rewards program that provides popular incentives for taking energy-saving actions and achieving results has been shown by independent evaluators to be not only more effective at achieving savings goals, but also preferred by customers themselves.
Small and Medium Businesses
- Provide meaningful peer comparisons. SMB customers expect their utility provider to offer insights into their energy consumption in relationship to the energy consumption of other like businesses within their industry segment and geography. This lets the businesses know how to be more competitive and successful in the marketplace.
- Deliver customized recommendations for their business. SMB customers expect that the utility-recommended energy savings projects and financial incentives will be specific to their type and size of business, their location, and their hours of operation.
- Easy, online access to rich information. Like residential consumers, SMB customers want to engage with their utility via an intuitive, self-service portal through which they are presented information in an immediately actionable format. As they answer profile questions about their business, they expect the recommendations to become increasingly more precisely tailored to their business.
Large Commercial and Industrial Organizations
- Provide custom engagement with an experienced, informed professional. Large organizations expect to engage with a utility account manager or audit engineer who will baseline and benchmark their energy consumption against industry standards, identify outliers and anomalies, and characterize the financial, operational, and environmental impact of a portfolio of recommended energy conservation measures and associated financial incentives. To achieve this, utilities need to equip account managers with a sophisticated software solution that not only provides this information, but also helps them to prioritize which accounts to approach first for the greatest impact.
- Reward information with more information. Large organizations are generally sophisticated about their energy, facility, and process information. They are willing to share this information with the utility, if it means that they will get equally detailed and uniquely tailored energy savings recommendations in return.
- Provide prioritized data views, with rich analysis underneath. While customers may initially wish to see a “dashboard” view of energy use information, benchmarks, comparisons, and outliers, they are sophisticated enough to want to delve into the details and understand the context and potential drivers of their energy use. The software needs to be sophisticated enough to provide not only the high level summary view, but also a meaningful exploration of the details underneath.
The combination of software and sophisticated outreach allows utilities to achieve an ongoing, detailed conversation with each customer segment. What unites these customer segments is the desire for visibility into their energy use, and reductions and cost savings that they have achieved, as well as to be regularly made aware of additional, relevant savings opportunities.
To read more about how utilities can deliver customer engagement solutions for continual energy improvement, click here.