My meter is smart. Why isn’t my utility provider?

By Rachel Nitschke | Jun 06, 2016

One of the most-hated practices for a Memphis-based utility provider is coming to an end this summer: “estimating” customers’ utility bills because a utility employee was not able to manually read your meter. With the installation of one million meters in households across the city, that frustration will disappear for consumers.

For many consumers, it’s only in small tidbits like this that make the smart meter relevant for them. For the most part, though, utility providers are not capitalizing on the opportunities of the smart meter by failing to tie their smart meter to their overall customer experience.

What do consumers really want?

Smart meters are often explained in terms of how it makes a difference for overhauling the aging grid. The lack of brownouts and blackouts, while noticeable for consumers, do not add value; they merely subtract the negative value. Explaining the value of the smart meter to your consumers means speaking to how the smart meter will meet their needs.

  • Incorporating distributed energy resources. DER-enabled smart grids are crucial for the environmentally conscious and affluent customers who want to save money and have less of an impact on the environment. Making it possible for your consumers to use solar power, for example, can meet their need for a lower energy bill and help you differentiate your brand as a forward-thinking service provider. The key to making this happen is investments in the smart grid on the operations side, and communication to consumers on the mobile side. Consumers will want to see the value that these services are providing.
    More knowledge of their own energy usage. The Direct Energy Account Manager app uses data from the smart meter to not only forecast consumers’ monthly bills, but also provide every type of energy usage comparison your prosumers could ever need: with similar-sized homes, historical and by appliance.
  • Easily accessible information– on the channels they use. Most consumers don’t know if they have a smart meter or not. Here’s the key: go to the consumers and give them the data. Give your consumers that information, and not just in a weekly email. Think about how closely Americans pay attention to gas prices. They see that information in real-time as they are charged and make more informed decisions about their usage and purchase decisions. If gas stations sent a bill each month, do you think Americans would pay attention? Provide real-time information to consumers in an easy-to-use mobile app (rather than a website to check monthly when the bill comes) and consumers will view the app (and the utility’s service) as vital to their life. Utility companies can empower their consumers with the peak times for energy consumption and corresponding rates, creating a more transparent picture of their energy usage and rates. Yes, the more informed consumers may make the decision to consume less energy, but the utility provider will gain more consumers and higher retention rates.
  • An acknowledgment of their privacy and safety concerns. Google suggests “Smart meter controversy” as a follow-up to your “smart meter” search. You’ll find countless web pages devoted to stories of these meters starting fires, being hacked and exposing your network, and doing everything short of drilling a hole into your wall and installing a camera feed to a government outpost. Understand that “home” is personal and anything remotely involving data being transmitted feels like a violation of that. Acknowledge their concerns and over-communicate the safety and security of your smart meter.

Going from smart meter to smart home

Utilities have a huge advantage with this. Consumers trust their utility. They want more engagement with their utility to meet their needs. What they don’t want is another corporation they aren’t familiar with coming in and breaking their trust.

Use the smart meter as the expansion point into the smart home. Forward-thinking utility providers who are already transitioning to the service model are looking into complete home services by expanding their offering to include a full suite of home repair. Plumbing, HV/AC, carpentry— making home life simpler for consumers infinitely increases the value and stickiness of your brand. Managing all of these services via intuitive and predictive mobile apps is the future of service from utility providers.
This also catalyzes the conversation around utilities becoming the center of the smart home. Provide the platform, plug into that data and then use that data to inform the auxiliary services. Is the warranty of your smart washing machine about to expire? What if your utility provider sent you a reminder notification, then offering to send someone out to check it before the warranty expires. A 2014 study from Gartner predicts that by 2022, homes will have as many as 500 connected devices. Without a single platform or assistance from a trusted provider helping them manage their smart home, consumers will drown.
The key aspect of the smart home is the usability and user experience. A U.K. study found that of the smart thermostat products currently available to consumers, zero passed basic usability standards. When the devices are controlled by mobile apps, the UX becomes split across a series of UIs. Rather than making consumers feel like they are viewing several different, disjoined UIs, a continuous UI and user experience will make a world of difference in consumer adoption. Start viewing an investment in user research, and ultimately, a better user experience, as insurance for consumer adoption. Only 16 percent of users will try an app more than once; 90 percent delete after opening once, without user research you’re taking a BIG risk.

Let's Talk :)