Once seemingly distant from consumers, utilities are now fighting for customers' attention and developing business models to improve engagement. Increasingly aware that they need customers on their side to deploy smart meters and other infrastructural upgrades, utilities are expanding their marketing programs, signaling a fundamental shift in the way utilities have traditionally done business.
Despite the buzz among analysts, entrepreneurs and industry executives, recent literature shows little consensus on industry best practices for customer engagement. Cutting through the hype can be a challenge, but utilities can earn more bang for their marketing buck by applying these three pieces of advice when crafting customer strategies:
1. Inform consumers, before someone else does
A recent Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative report [PDF] suggests that consumers care about long-term performance benefits of a smart grid beyond immediate efficiency and cost savings. Similarly, a Harris Poll found that many consumers would actively review the intricacies of their home energy consumption using an energy management system.
Unfortunately, as with green purchasing, there's often a big gap between what consumers say they'll do and what they actually do. Jesse Berst, founding editor of Smart Grid News, was quick to point out that surveys like these are overly optimistic. Converting opinions into results will require utilities to provide customers with more "cruise control" functionality of energy management.
In both polls above, consumer awareness of and openness to the smart grid increased as a result of background information provided by the polls themselves. Given the recent Accenture finding that average Americans only interact with their utility for a total of 7 minutes a year, utilities are missing a big opportunity to engage and educate their customers.
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