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.
get and the implications for what you have to serve them. Technologies need to deliver those services through multiple channels, not just the two traditional utility customer touch points, the bill and the phone call.
As data proliferates and people access it, you’ll have channels open up via telephone, CSRs and interactive applications. You need to be able to control that experience, keep it consistent across channels, and provide intelligent recommendations so customers can take the best actions. You need real-time capabilities to deliver on that. And you need to view the smart-grid ecosystem as just that: an ecosystem. Smart grid and AMI aren’t just about distribution systems, meters, meter data and CIS. It’s also about all the IT systems within the utility operation being aligned to work together, realize the value of data and deliver it to customers, whether it’s an outage management system (OMS) dispatching a truck to the customer’s location, or flagging the customer’s bill for a refund.
Sullivan, Vertex: We’re going to see vast improvements in battery technology, hydrogen production and distributed generation. We’ll see improvements in solar cells, year over year. It will be intriguing to see how utilities stand up and address distributed generation when consumers start putting solar cells on their houses and want to sell excess power back to the utility. Time-of-use (TOU) rates will go two ways, for buying power from the utility and also selling it into the grid. Utilities now are starting to think about the infrastructure, including customer information systems (CIS), two-way communications and hardware technologies, to address those needs. Certainly billing infrastructure isn’t there today, but utilities are placing bets on this happening in the not-too-distant future. Companies are spending money today, trying to position themselves for changes in technologies, regulations and the market.
Jimenez, HP: As our utility clients try to plan their future, they tell us one of their biggest areas of concern is they don’t know how they’ll leverage customer intelligence with grid intelligence to minimize capital investments, improve reliability and make the best use of energy resources, whether it’s power the utility provides to the end user or power the end user will provide to the utility. That is intelligence. It’s not about data warehousing or data mining, but enterprise intelligence—how you perform your service. It’s the ability to make choices with some level of automation, for decisions that will improve the customer experience and the service the customer needs. That’s the key going forward; everything else already has been invented.
People talk about ‘sentiment mining’—the ability to mine for interactions between customers and CSRs. It’s new in this industry, but the technology has been around for a while and it is improving. How do you start now to add new technologies like this to your existing technology?
Sweat, TFCC: The important thing is the middleware, the open platform that allows multiple systems to be integrated on the utility side. For example, a customer wants to schedule a service appointment under a utility’s home appliance warranty program. They’ll call in and select choices from an