As the traditional relationship between utilities and their customers changes, one thing is certain—empowered customers, aided by information easily accessible on the web or their smartphones, are demanding better service and more of a say in how their energy is used, managed and even created. In this context, customer engagement is much more than a catch phrase.
To find out what drives effective customer engagement on energy usage, Opower conducted 14,000 surveys and interview across 12 countries.
From the results, Opower identified five universal truths about energy consumers.
TRUTH #1: UTILITIES AREN'T MEETING CUSTOMER EXPECTATIONS
Customers worldwide expect more from their utilities. The relationship is primarily transactional—signing up, paying bills and terminating service. But customers expect more in terms of cost, where personalized information and outreach is expected.
Utility customers were asked how important is a given customer service, and is the utility performing well in this area? The difference between these two measures was defined as the “utility performance gap.”
TRUTH #2: EVERYONE WANTS LOWER BILLS
The desire for lower energy bills is universal, but Opower found actual energy costs are not actually predictive of customer satisfaction with those costs.
The analysis shows no clear relationship between cost and customer perception of cost. However, the quality of personalized information provided by the utility, the utility’s outreach via convenient communication channels and the perceived relationship with the utility all strongly impacted customers’ perception of cost.
TRUTH #3: PEOPLE LOOK TO UTILITIES FOR ENERGY INFORMATION
Despite low customer satisfaction with utility services, customers trust their utility—more than the government or third parties—as the source for energy information:
TRUTH #4: CUSTOMERS VALUE PERSONALIZED ENERGY INSIGHTS
Customers value personalized energy insights. Utilities, especially those with smart meters, manage large amounts of data and make information on consumption available via a web portal. Customers rated highly personalized, insight-based options. Analysis was left to the utility, but consumers desired actionable information to be easily accessible.
Giving customers the information they want, via the channel of their choice, has become the norm in many consumer industries. However, very few utilities offer this level of outreach or customer choice right now.
TRUTH #5: EVERYONE WANTS TO KNOW HOW THEY MEASURE UP
Energy isn’t always the most gripping of topics, but Opower says its research finds that people worldwide have strong and consistent reactions to learning how their energy use compares to that of others.
According to Opower, telling consumers they can save money or help the environment is far less likely to incentivize consumers to save energy than simply telling them how they compare to others.
This could be the breakthrough that utilities have been seeking, a sort of "keeping up with the Joneses." If consumers know they use more energy and pay more than their neighbors, they will save more energy.
“When we started this research, we expected to find that customers around the globe are different—that they want different things from their utility providers and care about unique products and services,” said Roderick Morris, SVP of Marketing and Operations. “But over time, we found the exact opposite was true. While there are important regional nuances, the fundamental needs are the same.”
If that's true, Opower may have latched onto something big.