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What Happens When UX is Injected into Utility Energy Efficiency Programs

Are you meeting your customers where they are? During a lightning round session at this year’s AESP National Conference, Shannon Gardner of Duke Energy and Jenifer Gonzales of Puget Sound Energy (PSE) presented about their respective in-home energy assessment programs and the improvements each utility made to ensure a customer-centric experience.

For instance, the former ‘online’ scheduling process for both Duke Energy and PSE included going to the company website, filling out a home assessment request form, and waiting for a call back from the utility to get it scheduled--which could take days. Recognizing this process didn’t provide the most streamlined experience, both utilities set out to better align their programs to customer expectations.

But why would a utility do this? Outside of the fervent industry buzz about customer centricity, looming disruption (we are done saying “utility death spiral”) and how we all need to be more like Amazon, research shows that focusing on the customer experience actually does pay off.

Studies demonstrate that higher customer satisfaction ratings directly relate to profitability, higher return on equity (ROE), and higher credit ratings. A JD Power study has found that utilities in the top quartile of their customer satisfaction scale typically report profits 3-4% higher than utilities in the lower three quartiles. There is also a .5% increase in ROE among utilities in the top quartile one year prior to a rate case, compared with utilities in the bottom quartile during the same time frame. For an equity base of $1 billion, that difference equates to $5 million in annualized increase in earnings available to shareholders.

Further, in an internal Standard & Poors (S&P) report cited by JD Power, a correlation between credit analysts’ view of regulatory risk and customer satisfaction was identified. S&P confirmed that its methodology would include customer satisfaction as one of the many variables it uses to assess risk and, ultimately, utility credit ratings.

McGraw Hill Financial published a white paper based on JD Power’s findings and concluded, “Investing in the customer experience can yield rewards as significant as those when investing in tangible assets, such as power plants, transmission lines, and distribution infrastructure.”

“Investing in the customer experience can yield rewards as significant as those when investing in tangible assets, such as power plants, transmission lines, and distribution infrastructure.” - McGraw Hill Financial

 

So let’s get back to Duke Energy and PSE. Both utilities recognize the value in increasing customer satisfaction. And for the in-home energy assessment programs, that led to assessing and improving all points of contact: initial outreach, the call center, the enrollment process, the home visit, and the post-assessment report.

For example at Duke Energy, post-assessment reports went from printed to digital, which allowed added benefits such as hyperlinks to help customers get started on saving energy. This way, according to Gardner, they could show their customers how to save, not just tell them “Hey, you should do this. Now go figure out how."

PSE was able to reduce their appointment wait time by 30% in one year by making incremental process improvements. This included implementing a proper online scheduling tool, leveraging route optimization, and mitigating same-day cancellations with timely appointment reminders.

Gonzales offered these best practices for infusing user experience design into utility energy efficiency programs:

  • Meet customers where they want to be. Data analytics that can identify customer segments is easily accessible for utilities and is a key component to successful programs. For instance, utilities can (and should) plan accordingly for digital consumers versus non-digital. 

  • Technology can save money for your program. Many people are intimidated by the dollar signs attached to technology solutions, but Gonzales encouraged the crowd to realize the significant paybacks those investments can have. For example, PSE was able to reduce the amount of inbound calls thanks to their online scheduling tool.

  • Continue to analyze and modify your process. Customer expectations will constantly change, so it’s imperative to monitor processes and make ongoing improvements. Further, as updates are made, ensuring those changes resonate with customers is key. PSE learned that as they switched from phone to online scheduling some messaging was lost in translation and additional information was needed for the online experience.


We commend Duke Energy and PSE for their approach to improving assessments. Every program and process a utility delivers should be examined to determine how it can be enhanced to improve the customer experience. Doing so ensures you maintain your role as a trusted energy advisor and translates to bottom line improvements.

Customer satisfaction is a high priority for us here at Tendril, and for good reason. Fortunately, we’ve found that our products deliver a positive effect on utility customer satisfaction. You can read more about that here.

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  • Energy Efficiency
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