One of the major reasons why the smart grid projects are not taking off, to the extent projected by the utilities, is the issue of consumer trust in their relationship with their utility. In a trust relationship there is no (or little) fear of bearing your weaknesses to the other party; think about most relationships you have and you will realize that your trust of the other person or entity stems from a belief you have that said other party will not take advantage of the weaknesses you’ve expressed to them.
This relationship does not exist between the utility and it’s consumers. Most consumers are used to contacting their utility only twice every month, to pay bills and to lodge complaints. Both of these times are not the most ‘positive’ of experiences because, frankly, none of us likes paying bills. Ps: the twice monthly relationship is even less if the customer has switched away from the utility in a deregulated state like Illinois where they only have to get in touch for outages etc.
As seen in the JD Power survey below consumers are unhappy with their utilities and this has been the case for the better part of the last decade. Compared to rankings for other industries the utilities are not doing great: the highest ranking for a utility (639/1000 for PPL electric utilities) is not as high as the number ten ranked banking institution (710/1000. It’s Bank of America in case you were wondering).
So how can utilities improve this situation? It’s actually quite simple and is the foundation of marketing: by listening to the consumer. Due to the one-sided nature of the communication (up until now anyway) between utilities and their consumers which has gone from the consumer to the utility the utility has not had to listen or case. With the advent and increasing importance of social media and a more informed consumer base (who now compare their experience with the utility to their experience with their bank for example) the utilities now have no choice but to listen. The great thing for utilities is that the same social media tools that enable the more-vocal-than-ever customer to complain to the utility, also provide the channel the utility needs to listen to said consumers. A tweet now has more impact than a letter to the utility: it is heard by the customers’ followers and should also be heard by the utility.
A vocal consumer who feels like his/her complaint has been heard will most likely be the same consumer who will share with the world the great service that the utility provides. We don’t like to toot our own horn but our willingness and commitment to listening to what our customers want has led to a consistently increasing Net Promoter Score, which is currently at 66%.
It is only by listening that the trust between a consumer and the service provider can be built up or, in the case of the utilities, be repaired. Customers who trust you come back and become evangelists. Trust us, we know. We hope you are listening utilities…