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.
piece of equipment that’s causing the outage, and dispatch crews directly to that location to fix it. Service quality will improve, but it will come at a cost. A lot of what’s being planned now [in back-office system upgrades] is to mitigate that cost.
Labuhn, Telus: A hidden trend is that the consumer world is starting to invade this industry. When you talk about home energy management solutions, or services for commercial and industrial customers, the people who are making a lot of hay in those markets are consumer names, such as Google, Microsoft and Cisco. That trend is becoming more prevalent in the market for solutions to manage customer energy demand.
Coveney, SAP: Having a manageable energy portfolio is a major driver. From a national perspective, with an energy portfolio comprised of 20-percent nuclear, 50-percent fossil and a rising proportion of renewables, we need to know that’s a sustainable portfolio that doesn’t put us at risk in terms of economics and national security. The very important word is sustainability. What’s sustainable for our country, utilities, communities and the consumers who have to pay for the investment in energy infrastructure?
At the end of the day we’ll discover we can’t do everything at once because it’s too costly. Customers are willing to pay for the most important things if we make it cost effective and we explain why it’s important. It involves a lot of education and communication.
I hope legislative and regulatory changes provide incentives for utilities to change their business models, become more open and transparent and have a closer relationship with customers. That will tell them more than anything else what the customer values, and that will provide a better basis for making decisions about investments in the future.
Fortnightly: Will these new customer service capabilities force changes in the utility business model and regulatory model?
Hagen, Convergys: A lot of the rate case decisions we’ve seen are based on the value the smart-grid investment brings to customers. Regulators are asking, ‘What will this look like? What will it do for customers? How will it affect the customer experience?’ And as a result you’re seeing incremental changes in utilities’ business models.
But the smart grid represents a broad change for utilities. It’s not just a data exercise. The industry is overlaying a full communications network over an existing grid. That alone is a massive undertaking, but with the systems behind it that will take advantage of it, it’s creating a whole ecosystem for new business opportunities.
You see it today in pilot programs happening around the country, involving more options for customers, such as TOU and critical peak pricing. You’re seeing new approaches to customer presentment. Utilities are developing Web sites where you can get your account information and compare it to last month’s. These things are first steps, but over time you’ll see a proliferation of products and services offered by utilities. Today they dabble in things like lightning-strike panels, appliance services and heat-pump installation. That will expand to include things like customer generation equipment, including