Customer Satisfaction

Software technologies and mobile devices are changing the way utilities ensure grid reliability and communicate with their customers. We are particularly seeing these changes reflected in utility demand response (DR) programs. With the rise of the cloud, data analytics and social media, utilities are pivoting to behavioral demand response (BDR) programs that combine the power of real-time analytics and two-way communications to reach a broader consumer base and improve customer satisfaction in ways that weren’t possible several years ago.

First-generation DR programs were a positive first step, but often required high upfront investments and resulted in customer dissatisfaction. These programs were difficult for utilities to manage, challenging to scale and typically required a large capital investment to purchase the hardware and software needed to implement the program. Equipment installed at the customer’s residence was often left exposed to the elements, causing frequent malfunctions that required repair and maintenance. 

As DR events were issued, the customer’s comfort was frequently impacted – the house got too hot or the volume of hot water was noticeably reduced, for example – without the customer’s real-time consent. 

BDR changes all that. BDR is device-less demand response that combines data-driven insights and customer engagement to help utilities reduce peak demand while also providing them with an easy way to strengthen the utility-customer relationship. Most notably, BDR provides utilities and their customers with the three Cs of control, communications and community: 

    • Control – BDR puts the control in the hands of the customer. Instead of having involuntary changes happen, BDR provides options that the customer can decide to act on, or not. Along these same lines, BDR also provides utilities with more control because it is configurable to the specific requirements of each market and customer segment. When using an industry-leading software as a service (SaaS) provider, utilities can also leverage predictive end-user data to predict future BDR performance on a per-meter basis.
    • Communications – When notified of an impending DR event by text or email, BDR allows utility customers to rapidly communicate the actions they took to reduce their energy use to others in their personal networks through social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook or through text messaging. Additionally, BDR programs offer a two-way communication channel between the customer and the utility where customers can share what they are doing to reduce their energy use when the grid is under stress.
    • Community – Applying behavioral approaches to customer engagement allows the program to activate unique customer groups to achieve a collective goal. BDR also engages local stores to support events so neighbors are helping reduce energy consumption while supporting local businesses, creating a strengthened sense of community. 

Using BDR, utilities can quickly launch a device-less cloud-based program, which greatly reduces start-up time and expense. BDR programs are relatively fast to implement and easily scalable to a utility’s customer base and can quickly forecast load shed at each meter, customer segment or target geography. Additionally, when paired with software that can geo-target and leverage big data analytics, utilities can utilize BDR to continuously refine marketing and design concepts for different customer segments. When paired with analytics software, this allows utilities to predict which customers in each market are most likely to participate in the program and to adjust their BDR marketing and messages accordingly, helping to deliver a more reliable load shed.

For example, consider the recent case of a North American utility that implemented a BDR program. In doing so, the utility will engage local businesses to support customer engagement. When the utility tweets, texts and emails a BDR message asking its customers to reduce their power usage, customers can select coupons from local businesses, such as a local pizza restaurant, to provide them with more options to shed load by getting out of the house while supporting their local economy. Customers are also encouraged to share on Twitter how they responded so neighbors and the program can learn from the creative approaches customers took to reduce stress on the power grid while, as an example, engaging in a memorable family pizza night.

This is just one example. Because BDR offerings are configurable to the needs of individual utilities, the number of different BDR-driven scenarios varies with each utility. 

BDR is just a starting point for engaging customers in the future of energy and increasing their energy literacy. Over time, consumers will have even more options when it comes to managing their energy use. For utilities, BDR is a significant step in building stronger relationships with these customers. 

JOHN STEINHOFF is the vice president of national operations at CLEAResult, a leader in designing and implementing technology-enabled energy efficiency programs for utilities, governments, schools and businesses. 

DR. AMIT NARAYAN is founder and chief executive officer of AutoGrid, which transforms data into the cleanest, cheapest source of power. For more information, visit clearesult.com and auto-grid.com.

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