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Customer relationship management data will help utilities reboot their outreach

Technology Writer

Customer relationship management data will offer a way for utilities to redefine their relationships with customers. Traditionally, the utilities sector has been somewhat shielded from economic struggles, but in 2015, customers have options like solar panels that are getting cheaper by the year and helping some go off the grid. Happily for utilities, though, this new competition comes as technology is providing new ways to engage customers. Smart meters in particular will provide valuable big data that will help utilities forge stronger bonds with their customers.

Smart meters gaining traction

https://kapost-files-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/direct/1438099351-16-5637/CRMData_blog.jpgAccording to The Wall Street Journal, utilities installed more than 60 million smart meters in the U.S. between 2003 and 2013. While the old devices were read 12 times per year by meter readers, the new models return data every 15 minutes, or 35,000 times per year. Using such data, utilities can now point out ways in which consumers are wasting electricity and money. Utilities can help pinpoint sources of unusually high energy consumption, such as a malfunctioning pool pump, and alert the customer. This creates goodwill between the provider and the consumer.

Smart meters can also help consumers trim their electric bills by collecting data on peak usage times. Utilities can gather this information and issue alerts to consumers, notifying them when energy usage is cheaper. Users can then program their dishwashers or washing machines to run in the middle of the night or while they're away at work, for example. While this is nice in theory, a 2014 New York Times article points out that customers and utilities are slow to catch on to the concept. The looming advent of smart utilities, however, could improve this by driving change in appliance development. If customers could easily program their dishwashers to run at 3 a.m. after receiving a signal from their smart meters, that would be a lot easier than trying to get up and turn it on at that hour.

Following telecommunications' example

While smart appliances will help utilities forge a bond with consumers, there are other new opportunities for companies that amass data from smart meters. The telecommunications industry is a great role model for using big data analytics. Since the 1980s, this segment has experienced an upheaval as consumers shift from landlines to wireless. In the process, providers were able to map out the customer journey. Using analytical models, companies can now examine "moments of truth" in which a customer will stay, leave or recommend the service. The telecommunications companies can anticipate when these moves will happen and respond accordingly. Similarly, utilities can predict customer sentiment amid the shift from traditional power to renewable energy and self-generation.

In a 2010 paper for the Journal of Database Marketing & Customer Strategy Management, Merlin Stone, research director at London public sector change management agency WCL, mused that thanks to customer relationship management data, utilities "have come to understand how fast customers learn. They learn what they like, and what they do not like. They learn to comply when it suits them, to avoid compliance when it does not, and when they can expect not to be disadvantaged by failure to comply."

Customer satisfaction often boils down to price and reliability. Consumers want to pay as little as they can for the best service possible. For utilities, this means acting as an advocate for consumers by highlighting ways in which they can save money and rely more on renewable energy, if that's their preference. If utilities don't do this, then other companies will step into the ring to compete. Some firms, such as Retroficiency, already conduct energy audits for businesses, often suggesting cost-saving measures such as efficient light bulbs and programmable thermostats. With some extra effort, utilities can do the same.

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