Common industry consensus holds that Smart Grid technologies and policies will enable utilities to deploy new products and services in the pursuit of safe, reliable, and cost-effective electricity. Aspects of utility operations will become easier – such as identifying outage locations using smart meters or preventing service disruptions with closer monitoring of equipment conditions. But as far as the customer service organization is concerned, the Smart Grid means business as usual. Utilities will adjust to include social media channels for inbound and outbound communications along with traditional voice, email, and webchat, but that will be the extent of change.
But this industry consensus lacks comprehension and vision about the revolutionary rise of the prosumer, as noted here and here. The traditional utility/customer relationship is changing as electricity consumers become electricity prosumers – producing kilowatts and/or negawatts through Smart Grid enabling technologies like distributed energy resources (DER) plays, long term energy efficiency decisions or short term demand response actions. Utility customer care organizations must change to accommodate these disruptive shifts from ratepayer relationships into interactions with consumers who have choices and new value for utilities.
What are these choices and what is the utility value? The coming changes are not limited to states that are fully deregulated and where consumers can switch retail energy providers at will. Consumers in regulated states have choices that have important consequences for utilities too. They may choose to participate or not in a demand response program or to install solar panels on their rooftops and switch to a net metering or feed-in tariff (FiT). Consumers become prosumers when they make these choices, and their decisions have value in the form of kilowatts or negawatts for utilities.
These changes are occurring as forward-thinking utilities and regulators acknowledge that the utility business model itself will change, as recently published in the New York Public Service Commission’s Reforming the Energy Vision staff report. Business model changes portend enormously important roles for contact centers as the strategic focal point for prosumer care, rather than traditional consumer care. Within the next 5 years, a growing number of utilities will be permitted to offer new services that produce new revenue streams beyond basic electricity sales. For instance, new services may allow utilities to leverage customer-side DER assets. Such services can create new lifetime consumer value for utilities that goes well beyond simple electricity sales.
The important role that prosumer care operations play in utilities is magnified as these operations transform into revenue centers rather than remain as cost centers. Prosumer care operations deliver the critical sales functions for utilities as their business models change. They help introduce new services and develop new revenue streams, and they most definitely will compete against new energy services market entrants. The utilities in the best position to transform into prosumer care operations are the ones that first plan to invest and transition into consumer-centric operations.
Consumer-centric operations can help transform utilities into the trusted advisors on energy matters for consumers. Trust builds loyalty, and helps avoid intermediation or dissolution of existing utility/consumer relationships by third parties such as Comcast, Verizon, or other new entrants in residential energy services. But a consumer focus is just part of the strategy to achieve prosumer care operations. Consumer value is redefined for utilities and has to be considered on a lifetime basis of what a consumer means to a utility. It is a sophisticated sum total of a utility’s electricity transactions (bidirectional sales and purchases) as well as investment requirements and investment postponements.
Lifetime consumer value calculations comprise a data analytics convergence of utility operational grid data with meter, CRM, and other traditionally backoffice data into the prosumer care operations center. It’s another important convergence brought about by Smart Grid technologies and policies. Unlike the typical utility IT/OT convergence that is evolutionary, this one is truly revolutionary because it enables a prosumer relationship that doesn’t exist in any other business. Among all the Smart Grid changes in the utility sector, this one will have the most direct impacts on consumers as their relationships transition into prosumer interactions. Utilities are well-advised to prepare for that.