Adapted from Tough Times Inspire Digital Innovation in Utilities, originally published in 2021
Industry-wide change rarely happens without a nudge. Sometimes that nudge takes the form of a new regulation, a rate case review, or changing customer demand. Recently, extreme weather events, including heatwaves, wildfires, and winter storms, have become similar catalysts for change, particularly because they can no longer be categorized as “once-in-a-decade” or “once-in-a-century” events.
The past two years have been particularly change-heavy for utilities organizations, in part due to more frequent weather events. ERCOT’s new Peak Demand Records website is just one example of a new offering developed to increase transparency around grid usage and demand, especially during times of extreme temperatures.
In response to these industry-wide changes, there are two primary mindset shifts that can help position your organization to adapt today and continue to evolve through digital innovation.
Meeting and Exceeding Customer Expectations Through Digital Innovation
Recent extreme weather events have expedited shifts in consumer behavior and expectations. Customers are asking: How much power am I using? What can I do to reduce my utility bill? What’s the latest news in my area and will it impact my access to certain utilities?
Is your organization prepared to field these questions and provide accurate, timely answers? Or, perhaps more importantly, is your organization prepared to shift its focus from communication management to customer engagement?
Your customers aren’t strangers to cell phones, mobile apps, and push notifications. In nearly every aspect of their lives, people have access to instant updates and quick responses. Because of this, customers don’t just expect information about outages or routine maintenance, they expect a consistent flow of information to be available when they need it.
Digital innovation can become a critical part of your customer-facing equation:
- Tailored Communications: Phone call, email, or text message? By allowing customers to select their communication channel preferences, utilities companies can create personalized communication strategies. This enables the provider to deliver information and updates in the customer’s preferred format, increasing both customer engagement and satisfaction.
- Online Dashboards: Providers can develop an online dashboard or webpage that provides customers with various self-service options. This platform can include features like opting in for notifications, accessing energy management information, and choosing from multiple bill payment options. User-friendly digital interfaces empower customers to have more control over their interactions and payments.
Preparing Employees to Expect the Unexpected
While taking steps to meet and exceed customer expectations, it’s critical to make an equal effort with your employees. Extreme weather events, for example, can quickly evolve into high-pressure situations that demand an all-hands-on-deck response. While these events will always have a level of pressure and uncertainty, they can no longer be treated as “once-in-a-decade” anomalies. It’s more appropriate to acknowledge their inherent high-pressure nature and emphasize the importance of initial training, ongoing learning, and the availability of materials and tools for effective employee support.
Developing employee training and resources for these events is critical. For example, if your region has been impacted by extreme heat that has caused outages in past years, it’s prudent to develop a formal response and ensure that your employees have access to the protocol. This will not only put your organization in the best position to resolve the problem quickly but will also ensure employees are informed and engaged.
An effective employee engagement strategy starts with two key tenets: training and communication.
Employees should be knowledgeable about safety protocol, key responsibilities, and on-call needs. While advance training is important, supplemental resources–like job aids–are critical, as specific procedures can be easy to forget in the midst of an emergency.
Empowering employees with technology that can help them communicate quickly and prioritize key initiatives will enable faster decision-making:
- Digital Twin Technology: Many utility companies are adopting digital twin technology to create virtual replicas of physical assets and systems. This assists employees in overseeing and simulating the performance of these assets for maintenance and operational needs.
- Employee-Facing Technology: Enhanced communication channels can be offered through internal mobile applications that enable employees to receive updates and reminders faster through their smartphones and tablet devices.
- Digitization: Organizations may consider the digitization of frequently used documentation, like one-pagers, for easier accessibility. These could include built-in checklists for various events and protocols.
While there isn’t one silver-bullet digital solution to address both customer and employee needs, adopting an innovation-centric mindset is one of the best ways to position your organization for success during a time of consistent industry change.
Curious about what this digital innovation approach might look like at your company? Fill out the form below to connect with one of our consultants.