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...
Engaging the consumer takes on new meaning.
system indicates that our customers are generally willing to learn more about the programs we offer. We now have about 75,000 customers enrolled in paperless billing programs and 200,000 customers enrolled in our budget-billing program, which tells us that we are reaching and convincing our customers about the benefits of these programs.
Our customer base spans a broad range of ages and geographies: Our customers live in urban downtowns, rural agricultural areas and every setting in between. We believe in offering a variety of platforms and services to enhance the customer experience. No matter what your needs are or how you choose to engage with us, we believe we have technologies to enhance each interaction.
On a related topic, we have talked extensively about the extent of our customer engagement through smart meters. Other utilities have offered programs, for instance, to remotely turn off customers’ air conditioners or other major appliances during times of peak demand to save energy and help customers save money. We have not yet entered the domain of actively controlling appliance use. But Pennsylvania’s Act 129 legislation mandates that we offer direct load control, among other energy management programs. So, we are starting to work on pilot programs in that area that we will begin to offer next year.
McLeod, APS: The secret to engaging customers is options. APS serves more than 1.1 million customers in Arizona. We have customers who live in the snow, and customers who live in the desert. We have customers in their early 20s buying their very first homes, and we have snowbirds—retirees that live in Arizona only during the colder months. With so much diversity, service and rate options are essential to engaging each and every customer.
When it comes to energy usage, different people have different needs. That’s why APS offers several rate plans, so customers can find the one that is most convenient for their lifestyle and saves them the most money. APS offers the most extensive time-of-use program in the nation, with 450,000 customers on one TOU plan or another.
APS also offers several options for customers to pay their bills. Customers can pay online, over the phone, through the mail, in person or they can set up payments that automatically come straight from their bank account each month. Customers also have the choice of whether to receive a paper bill. In fact, most of our customers choose to go paperless and view their bills online. In the past five years, online transactions have increased 90 percent, with more than 240,000 customer transactions a month.
Customers also have more control over the size of their bills than ever before. APS has many energy efficiency programs that offer incentives to help cover the costs of making a home more energy efficient—rebates for everything from high-efficiency air conditioners to pool pumps, from duct sealing to attic insulation and most recently, we’ve created financing options for customers to accomplish this type of work.
We have so many options to help customers stay engaged, customer resistance has not been a problem.