What Consumers Want: Smart Devices, Support, Lower Bills and Climate Change Action

05/25/21

When the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC) released its 2021 State of the Consumer report, we took special notice because the six primary revelations of the report have implications for energy providers, including our clients.

To distill the six themes of SECC’s report into one overarching message: Utility customer engagement is more important than ever. Utilities have vast knowledge and experience that can help customers achieve a better quality of life and improved environmental outcomes. In return, strong engagement builds customer satisfaction, resulting in higher trust and loyalty.

Below we share our advice for utilities to capitalize on the six major report themes.

Theme One: Consumers are making the connection between smart energy and slowing climate change.

Utilities have typically been a trusted source of information for consumers who want to reduce their energy usage and, by extension, shrink their environmental footprint. In the digital age, when customers expect more from their service providers, now is the time for utilities to focus on educational opportunities that directly address how consumers can help slow climate change. Consumers are ready for a trusted source to help them connect the dots, and utilities are in a unique position to do that.

Theme Two: Consumers across all segments are interested in smart energy-enabled products.

The increased prevalence of in-home smart devices represents another opportunity for utilities to engage with consumers. There are smart versions of every residential electrical device: plugs, light bulbs, thermostats, TVs, appliances, alarm systems, water heaters, speakers and more. Smart devices can help customers lower electricity bills by minimizing energy waste. When we look ahead to the likely rollout of residential time-of-use or demand-based rates, utilities stand to help customers – and themselves – by providing education about and encouraging adoption of smart products that could be controlled and timed to operate during off-peak periods.

>> Is your utility considering a demand-based rate change? Read Energy on Demand: Preparing Residential Customers for Demand-Based Rates

>> Read about how we helped JEA explore a rate change in this case study: Using Customer Engagement to Ensure Pilot Success

Theme Three: Lower-income consumers are keenly interested in smart energy and the environment.

Utilities are wise to engage this market segment – where consumer motivation to reduce energy bills is high and where the energy burden has become worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. With the right engagement, lower-income customers can move toward adopting smart energy technologies and behaviors that would have an overall beneficial impact on the grid and the environment. This customer segment has the same varied drivers and values as higher-income customers, and saving money is the key driver for decisions. Utilities should create opportunities to genuinely connect with lower-income customers, building relationships and moving away from transactional interactions. They can look for meaningful collaborations and partnerships to tackle the barriers to smart energy technologies and program participation together.  

Theme Four: Consumers need more education on how to assess a program or technology.

We’ll say it again: Consumers need more education. And utilities can deliver it. Through their many touchpoints with consumers – monthly bills, social channels, special events – utilities have a well-defined target audience for education on a program or new technology. But one size does not fit all – meet your customers where they are by providing trusted information regarding energy use to inform their decisions, behavior and purchases.

Theme Five: Consumers look to their energy providers for support as they deal with the impact of COVID-19.

The last 15 months have reminded us of the critical role energy plays in our lives. COVID-19 and natural disasters aplenty have underscored the need for utilities to stand by their customers and support them in times of dire need. Utilities can continue providing clear messaging across diverse touchpoints (digital and printed materials) of the support they provide customers. Customer support develops trust and engagement while also building community resiliency, which is good for everyone.

>> See one way TVA is communicating with customers during the COVID-19 pandemic

Theme Six: Consumer education and engagement are essential to realizing the promise of beneficial electrification and advanced technologies such as AMI.

The potential impacts of beneficial electrification are far-reaching – as long as utilities are intentional about bringing their customers along in the journey. Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), for example, can give utilities real-time power data to help optimize their operations and reduce costs. That same data can give consumers instant feedback about their energy use behaviors and how they might impact the next bill. Utilities are uniquely positioned to listen to consumers and tailor messaging around how new innovations, like AMI and smart energy technologies, can improve their experience and environment.

>> Learn more about how utilities can prepare for increasing electrification: Five Utility Challenges of Electrification

Quality of life is intertwined with energy – for individuals and utilities alike. Engaging consumers through listening, establishing trust and creating a shared vision will help us modernize and prepare for whatever the future may hold. Engage now to grow together. Listen now to understand needs and barriers and develop a shared vision together. Empower decisions now to modernize and shape the future together.

SECC members can download the entire report here – all others can view the Executive Summary.

Luke Gebhard
Luke Gebhard