Key Points
  • While customer experience drives disruption in the utilities industry, new-age technologies will power the transformation
  • Analytics, artificial intelligence, automation and the Internet of Things are clearly pushing the frontiers beyond energy management to smart devices and smart homes
  • The road ahead will require utility companies to integrate devices and services on to a unified smart platform to deliver personalized and data-driven customer experiences

More than a decade ago, the largest companies in the world belonged to the oil and gas industry. Today, technology giants rule the roost. As new-age technologies re-shape businesses, utility players are embracing Artificial Intelligence (AI), automation, analytics and Internet of Things (IoT) to stay competitive in a disruptive landscape. Right at the center of this shift is the growing importance of customer experience. A seamless customer experience has now become a differentiator for utilities, especially as today’s consumers are spoilt for choice.

Servicing Changing Customer Expectations

Digital is impacting customer expectations. Customers demand convenience, savings, greater control and simplicity; precisely the kind of experiences they enjoy in their retail dealings. They expect to be engaged with in novel ways. In addition, the proliferation of applications and social media are re-defining connectivity.

In response to new customer demands, companies are improving self-service customer interactions, delivering interactive outbound notifications and using data analytics to understand customer needs. Some players have developed applications that give customers control over their energy usage, monitor monthly bills and energy use in real-time, and receive bill and outage alerts.

Apart from developing products that are designed to offer customers an enhanced experience, utility companies are also building smart platforms that use real-time data of customers’ experiences. In addition to power and energy, they’re offering AI-based home energy management, transaction management and other product-based services.

Utilities are also leveraging blockchain to improve their processes. For instance, an Italian utility has successfully developed the functional specifications of three potential use cases related to grids, trading and renewable energy. Utilities are well on their way to exploiting the potential of blockchain for facilitating coordination between stakeholders with conflicting interests, and allowing the exchange of information through mechanisms such as smart contracts.

Smart Devices for Smart Usage

Many utilities are partnering with technology companies to provide customers smart devices that allow them to manage energy use. Google Nest has partnered with 50+ energy providers in the U.S. and Canada to offer smart thermostats, the Nest Hub (a device that allows customers to control smart home appliances), and smart speakers to control temperature.

Companies are also offering voice command-based products that allow customers to use smart devices to check and pay energy bills. Some energy providers are also working on applications that give customers deep insights into their energy consumption, allowing them to track and closely analyze bills and usage.

In the smart home category, the focus is shifting from one-dimensional AI to voice assistants such as Alexa and Google Assistant. Instead of waiting for the customer to ask for a task to be performed, smart voice assistants can figure out the rooms that need lights based on the time of the day, the temperature to set on smart thermostats, and the access points to lock and unlock at a specific time. This is the next frontier in the application of AI technology in the home, with data extracted from sensors in smart devices placed throughout the home.

In the future, utility customers will expect a complete smart home platform that can be accessed through smart devices — phones, laptops, and smart home speakers. Such a platform will deliver a personalized and data-driven customer experience apart from smart services, such as home energy management, transactions management, and other services. While a few such applications and products are already available independently, integrating them on a single platform and making them accessible on multiple channels will be the end goal that utility players will need to work on.

The time is ripe for utilities to tap into smart innovations driven by new-age technology, and build long-lasting relationships with their customers.

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