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DSM-à-la-Mode. It’s all about the Customer Experience

How do utilities gain increased relevance and strengthen their brand despite the fact that electricity resides largely in the back of consumers’ minds? Bill LeBlanc of E Source posed this question during the very first breakout session of the AESP National Conference here in Orlando, Florida.

And he has a point. The utility has done a great job of making energy in the United States inexpensive and easy to access. This double-edged sword makes energy products and services an afterthought to consumers, only taking notice when their electricity is no longer there.

According to the 2016 Overall Customer Satisfaction Index by JD Power, utilities have the lowest levels of customer satisfaction. Perhaps this is due to the out-of-sight-out-of-mind nature of the consumer’s relationship with the utility. When interactions do occur, they typically revolve around higher than expected bills, outages, or other service issues - and let’s be honest, things like punitive rate structures aren’t exactly delighting the customer. An uplift in brand perception and customer satisfaction are definitely necessary and, fortunately, readily attainable.

LeBlanc suggested utilities start building brand relevance through their demand side management programs. Currently, DSM planning functions start with the technical potential, focused on the load shape or cost-cutting goal. A target audience is identified, and only toward the end of planning are incentives (the customer’s part of all this) defined. LeBlanc challenged the audience to flip the script and start program planning from the customer’s point of view. Customers don’t understand what load management is and they certainly don’t use dinner parties to discuss TOU rates or how much peak they helped shave. So why are we still speaking to them on our terms? Putting the needs of the customer first is how utilities will create more innovative programs, integrate their services and successfully build their brand.

For example, ComEd was able to simultaneously increase their brand equity and delight their customers by designing their Chicago smart meter roll out to include a memorable experience for the customer. Instead of sending a standard email or notification, ComEd deployed complimentary ice cream and coffee trucks (dependent on the season) to introduce their AMI deployments to designated areas. “The ice cream truck is a fun and memorable way for us to open a dialog with our customers and create awareness of smart meters," said Mike McMahan, vice president of advanced metering infrastructure implementation for ComEd. While not every innovative customer program will include a Choco Taco, the idea of optimizing the customer experience needs to remain top of mind.

Utilities can start with the low-hanging fruit - take demand response for instance. As Jess Melanson, Tendril VP of Solutions Marketing, put it during the Integrated Demand Side Management panel, with traditional demand response “you’re paying the customer to be uncomfortable, to reduce their energy use when they need it most.” There must be a better way. Mark Martinez of Southern California Edison noted that demand response is a relationship, not a project. Yet traditional methods of DR - direct load control, behavioral demand response, etc. - are very much a project. In fact, I’d go as far as to say they are a blunt instrument with the sole intent of realizing an intended outcome.

With Continuous Demand Management (CDM) - an emerging form of Demand Management - that isn’t the case. While not as enjoyable as an ice cream cone, CDM does maintain customer comfort while improving the intended outcome - peak load reduction - by as much as 50 percent. Too sweet to be true? Not at all...learn more by reading our paper, “The Time is Now to Demand More from DR.” No matter what type of program you are running, emphasize that customer experience and the results are sure to follow.

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  • Continuous Demand Management
  • Customer Ops & CSAT
  • DERs
  • DSM
  • Data Analytics
  • Demand Response
  • Disruption
  • Energy Efficiency
  • HERs
  • High Bill Alerts
  • Privacy & Security
  • Real Estate
  • Smart Home
  • Solar

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