Utility Customer Relations - Lessons From the UK

by Martin Moir, First Utility

The U.K. utility market is suffering from a lack of competition. Outdated billing practices, old technology and inefficient customer service are just some of the issues affecting U.K. consumers as they struggle to keep control of their energy bills.

Many of these concerns are shared on both sides of the Atlantic. In a struggling global economy, consumers in the U.S. and U.K. want to save money first. Energy bills are a concern for U.K. consumers, with 89 percent saying that rising energy costs are their No. 1 financial concern. These concerns are exacerbating fuel poverty, which afflicts one in every four people in the U.K.

While significant reform and change is needed in the U.K. to create a fully competitive market, in reality we are already moving toward a new, customer-centric model that will change the way utilities interact with their customers and empower them to take greater control of their energy usage. Gone are the days where the only contact with a utility would be a monthly bill or a service call. Today's customers demand better information about their energy consumption and more guidance from their utilities on ways to save on their bills. This is true in the U.S. and U.K., where offering sophisticated energy management tools is becoming the new normal in utility customer service and a prerequisite for customer satisfaction.

Customer service means giving customers not only information but analysis of their energy consumption that helps them better understand their energy usage. The granular data coming from smart meters is a key component in engaging and empowering consumers. Thoughtful analysis of smart meter data can empower consumers to understand their energy usage and in many cases help them pinpoint sources of energy waste within their homes. But smart meter data and analysis are not enough. Science tells us that technology is only as efficient as the people who use it. Behavioral interventions in the U.S. and now in the U.K. are proving that the way information is presented to customers can make an important difference on the level of consumer engagement and the amount of energy they save.

First Utility, the only U.K. energy company to offer a smart meter service to all of its customers, recognizes these trends. That's why we've partnered with a U.S.-based consumer energy management company, Opower, to give consumers access to unique tools and information regarding their energy consumption and how they can improve their energy efficiency and reduce their bills. Innovations brought about by this program include reports that offer comparative consumption information and household-specific analysis of consumption patterns, access to detailed usage information, and high-bill alerts designed to help customers avoid excessive bills while they still have time to change their usage. This multichannel customer engagement approach is designed to be highly scalable, accessible to all demographic segments, and drive a high level of customer participation and energy savings.

As part of the first large-scale, information-based energy efficiency program in the U.K., First Utility intends to work in consultation with the Behavioural Insights Team in the Cabinet Office and the Department of Energy and Climate Change to assess the impact of this program to inform future smart meter policy. Energy savings from the program will be measured and verified independently by leading academics in the U.K. using data from smart meters. We know programs like these produce results: Opower's partnerships with U.S. utilities have helped save nearly $80 million on energy bills, abated more than 1 billion pounds of carbon dioxide equivalents and more than 750 million kilowatt-hours during the past four years. We expect similar success here in the U.K.

There is a huge opportunity to shake up the utility industry and make a positive difference for consumers. Giving customers greater visibility over their energy use and helping them make smart decisions about how to save money and energy will give them the control they need to make a difference in their energy usage.


Author

Martin Moir is director of sales and marketing at First Utility. He has spent much of his career in the energy industry, having joined First Utility from npower. He previously held sales roles within the industry, including Independent Energy and Midlands Electricity. Reach him through his blog at First Utility, http://first-utility.com/blog/martin-moir.

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