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.
interactive voice response (IVR) program, or they’ll use a smart-phone or web app. That action will query the system and identify the same information that the CSR would be looking at. They’ll select the appointment window that works for them, and then select a method for the utility to confirm the appointment, whether it’s text, email or phone. On the day of the appointment, the utility contacts the customer and asks whether the appointment is still on. If yes, then the truck rolls. If no, it reschedules.
This is a back-end system that’s going across multiple systems, including mobile data, CIS, appointment scheduling, etc., and it can provide what the customer needs without having to talk to a person. That’s the direction we’re going—toward a middleware environment that supports multiple systems and enables communication through various channels.
Labuhn, Telus: In general, the industry has to realize that in this transition we need to work toward standards that are globally accepted. In the telecom industry, we used to battle each other over standards. Most telecom companies now are going to 4G technologies. The same kind of consolidation of standards has to occur in smart grid for it to be truly stable and interoperable.
Coveney, SAP: As someone who’s involved in technology interoperability discussions, I’m pretty pleased with how far the technology has come in the last couple of years. The HAN providers and IP-based solutions have taken great steps forward and I see them making even more leaps forward in the next few years. Microsoft, Google and others, including appliance companies like Whirlpool and GE, are changing the landscape of how utilities will be interacting with the home environment.
There’s a lot that can be done, but the technology is ahead of what we can accommodate in the business model. It will continue developing at a faster pace than we can derive impacts from it.
Modeling the Future
Fortnightly: What’s driving these changes? Is it purely about advancing technology, or are market forces driving utilities to change the way they provide customer service?
Sweat, TFCC: When you look outside the utility space, there’s a desire among customers to transparently transact across the spectrum. They’re accustomed to transacting with other retail providers using a credit card or with a mobile app, and they don’t understand why utilities shouldn’t be able to interact with them in the same way.
It also comes back to the workforce heading toward retirement. As retiring workers are replaced with app-savvy utility workers, that itself will bring a process of change—or at least will make change more acceptable within the utility.
Waters, Oracle: As the costs of energy escalate, customers will become more concerned about how they use energy. They’ll want to become a more active participant [in the transaction]. With conservation, green energy, distributed generation and other products, customers will want assistance and ways to administer their options.
Also it’s being driven by the need to improve service quality and cost. Smart- grid systems will allow utilities to isolate outages, in some cases right down to the