In this guest post by Todd Arnold, Managing Principal of Smart Customer Insights, he explains why utility customers can care about their energy use.
Many in the utility industry assume that consumers can’t care about their energy, as energy is “back-of-mind” to them. This is a dangerous assumption, as it is clear that for smart energy to be successful, utilities must find a way to engage their customers. If they do not, third parties will, and the utility will be missing in the conversation.
Unfortunately, too often I read the following types of comments on blogs or hear them at industry conferences:
- Customers don’t care about industry speak, just dollars out of their pocket.
- The average user has no clue how the system works and does not care as long as the light comes on when they hit the switch.
- Very few think anything about energy, why would making it into a game make any significant difference?
- People simply do not care, nor do they have the extra time.
However, I see customers engaged with all sorts of activities that I can’t imagine why they would spend their time there. For example, people spend hours on Zynga, Facebook, and Words With Friends, despite receiving no clear benefit.
Another example is waiting in line at Starbucks – sorry Starbucks – I love your coffee but as a call center leader I am frustrated that my customers want me to answer the phone in 20 seconds or less when your customers are willing to wait for five minutes. And of course 10 years ago, who would have said people would spend $2.50 for a cup of coffee or pay $5.00 for something called a latte?
The latest is who would pay $249 for a NEST Thermostat? Me for one, and I find it is a wonderfully illogical purchase. I could have found one much cheaper, but it wouldn’t have looked as nice when it arrived. It wouldn’t have been so easy to install, thereby making me feel very technologically competent. It wouldn’t have been so simple in connecting to my wireless and enabling apps on my Mac, iPhone and iPad. It wouldn’t have been so elegantly simple to manage and save energy.
I’m finding an attachment to my NEST because now no matter where I am I can see the temperature setting of my house and see where my thermostat is set. While traveling I have the assurance of being able to see that my furnace is working and my pipes didn’t freeze. If I’m upstairs in bed and I wake up early I can turn the temperature up from the warmth of my bed so that the house heats up early. Finally – and maybe most importantly from a continuous engagement standpoint – it lights up every time I walk by it. I can’t say that for all other members of my household. My NEST always lights up and says hello. How cool is that?
Now NEST has established an energy relationship with me and replaced my utility. From a heating and cooling standpoint my relationship is now with NEST. Plus NEST now has detailed behavior data on my household, while the utility only has hourly macro usage data. NEST knows where I set my thermostat, when I change it, and how many hours my HVAC system runs each day. I’m sure over time they will get to know me better and provide valued information and offerings.
Utilities need to make sure they don’t allow the energy relationship with their customers to be entirely owned and operated by a third party, simply because they have assumed that customers aren’t interested in their own energy use information. People are interested, if the information is presented to them in a meaningful way and in a way that easily fits with how they live.
Energy information is becoming more easily accessible, thanks to the announcement of Green Button providing an open platform to those who want to build applications to engage the customer. Engage the customers they will – and utilities should make sure they are a part of the conversation, by working with third party hardware and software developers to create meaningful ways of presenting the data to the customer.