To become more effective at marketing, utilities would do well to follow the lead of Internet giants like Amazon.
Amazon does a great job at suggesting products you may want to buy based on your past purchases. With the abundance of data utilities now have at their disposal, they can be doing the same sort of data mining to come up with offers to help customers save energy – and money.
That was the upshot of a conversation I had with Jenny Roehm, Senior Manager, Utility Residential Solutions for Schneider Electric, who I spoke with at the recent TechAdvantage event in Orlando.
As utilities roll out more smart meters to customer homes, they see a dramatic increase in the amount of data available on each customer, Roehm says. Whereas once utilities only had overall energy use data, now they have data on use by time of day. Combine that with data on weather and location, along with any databases utilities can buy with additional customer information, and suddenly they’ve got a veritable treasure trove of information.
The trick is turning that information into something valuable for both the utility and the customer. That’s where utilities have the opportunity to create custom purchasing packages along the lines of what Amazon does, she says.
The idea is to give customized information for each customer and present it in a way that they can easily take action on it. “Instead of once a month you get a suggestion from your utility on something you can do like put in CFLs; if I’ve already done that, hearing that message again is meaningless and it’s a wasted opportunity,” Roehm says.
One of the ways Schneider Electric is enabling utilities to provide this customized information is through a digital platform that customers can view either online or in an app. The North American Wiser Efficiency Advisor, an interactive platform, so if the utility suggests installing CFLs, the customer can indicate they’ve already done it and will never see that suggestion again.
Some utilities are also using their customer databases to provide monthly reports on energy use, showing their use compared to their most efficient neighbors, for example, and offering season-specific ways to save energy.
As utilities seek to tailor marketing programs to individual customers, Roehm acknowledged there is some confusion in the market around the regulations they need to meet. For example, it’s clear that a utility is required to offer programs to an entire class of customers, rather than cherry-picking certain ones.
“But there’s not a lot of clarity around whether they have to market to that entire customer class,” she said. “I don’t think they should be required to.” It makes little sense to market an air conditioner efficiency program to customers who don’t have air conditioners, for example. And with the type of data utilities now have at their disposal, they can certainly tell who is most likely to have air conditioners.