Calling himself the “world’s greatest consumer,” utility watchdog Michael Shames helped in 1981 to create the Utility Consumers’ Action Network (UCAN), where he has served as executive director...
Customer Service: 2020
Grid upgrades spark an interactivity revolution.
the way companies will set up customer-centric service models. Twenty years ago, the whole mission for telecom companies in the United States was to provide phone lines, and they didn’t have to deal with customers except to collect on a bill or handle a complaint. As time passed, telecom companies had to scramble as services expanded, and now the relationship between companies and customers is more dynamic. It will be similar for utilities. Customers are looking for transparency, and that will generate a different kind of interaction. It won’t always mean answering questions on the phone. It might mean addressing questions posted on the utility’s Twitter or Facebook page. I don’t know what model it will be, because there are so many ways you can get interaction between customers and the utility. It will be a combination of multiple channels of communication. And whatever utilities do, it will have to be scalable and able to respond to whatever level of customer interaction is required, whether it’s 5 percent or 80 percent of customers using it.
Hagen, Convergys: In 2020 you’ll see a lot more focus on the customer experience. Today people in the utility industry talk about the meter-to-cash process. There’s really no customer aspect to that, but the smart grid is changing that with the opportunity to know, in real time, what’s going on in someone’s neighborhood or behind the meter, for example in a home area network (HAN), and the opportunity to communicate that information to the customer. That’s blossoming as the smart grid grows.
Massive amounts of data will change the utility industry’s operational focus in the same way we’ve seen it change other industries. For instance, in the grocery business the UPC system was initially designed as an operational benefit for grocery stores, to speed up the check-out process and turn customers through the store more quickly. But over time UPC information turned into an opportunity for grocers to use data as an asset, so they could better interact with customers, to know what they’re buying, what coupons they’re using and to create reward programs that make the business more sticky. Operational benefits blossomed into an overall better customer experience because of the data that became available. The same trend will happen in the utility industry. If the product can become more targeted, that will take inefficiencies out of the system.
Fortnightly: What does that future vision imply about technology advancement between now and 2020?
Hagen, Convergys : The industry needs systems that are designed with the purpose of handling the customer experience. It’s challenging to take a system that was designed to handle resources and leverage it to serve customer segments. And it has to be able to use real-time data. It’s not sufficient for the system to know the best action for the customer to take 15 minutes after they hang up the phone. The CSR or automated channel needs to know instantly who the customer is, what their segmentation specifications are, what meter they have on their property, what real-time data you can