How to deliver bad news to ‘smart’ customers.
The deployment of smart meters has generated a tidal wave of data for utilities to manage and beyond the initial data storage challenge, there exist real questions about how to use and share this information with consumers. In an article published on smartgridnews.com back in 2009, Jack Danahy estimated that 140 million smart meters installed over a period of 10 years would generate 100 petabytes (1 quadrillion bytes) of information. That’s a lot of data and the effort to store this data is a wasted exercise if the analysis is never used to better project consumer demand and to help consumers better manage their consumption.
One of the utilities that Customer Relationship Metrics supports recently decided to make use of the data they were gathering, and for very good reason. According to OPOWER, an energy efficiency and Smart Grid software company, consumers who receive data about their electricity usage reduced their energy consumption by 1.8% (which, according to the EDF could curb CO2 emissions by 8.9 million metric tons annually). This utility mailed customers a snapshot of their electricity usage compared to the usage of other customers in their immediate area, along with tips on how to decrease energy usage. A company proactively informing customers how to use less of their product!!! What’s not to love? Apparently a lot. Customers who were notified that their electricity usage was comparatively high began contacting the utility’s call center in droves, complaining of over-charging, bad meter-readings and malfunctioning meters. The call center and its agents were unprepared for both the volume of calls and the negative response to the letter. And I was as surprised as everyone for the backlash.
There’s an important marketing lesson to be had here that is applicable beyond just the utility industry. When you have bad news to deliver, it is best to deliver that news in a phased approach.
1. Phase I – Send out literature to “high users” on how to remediate their current (high) usage. Plan for small increases in call volume to the call center.
2. Phase II – Send out a more pointed letter or recorded messages to specific customers letting them know that their usage is outside of the average or norm, reminding them of the remediation literature sent to them and pointing them to the location on your website where they may learn more on how to modify their electricity usage. Plan for small increases in call volume to the call center.
3. Phase III – Send out the actual comparison of “high users” to their neighbors. This is the first time these consumers will be faced with specifics (data), but as a result of conducting Phases I & II, the knowledge of where they stand should not be a surprise. Plan for more significant increases in call volume to the call center; arm agents with additional training and scripting to help agents de-escalate alarmed or angry customers.