How to deliver bad news to smart meter customers

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How to deliver bad news to smart meter customers

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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.

About Jim Rembach

Jim Rembach is a panel expert with the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) and an SVP for Customer Relationship Metrics (CRM). Jim spent many years in contact center operations and leverages this to help others. He is a certified Emotional Intelligence (EQ) practitioner and frequently quoted industry expert. Call Jim at 336-288-8226 if you need help with customer-centric enhancements.

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  • This is a very common problem. Someone at a company thinks people ought to be told something that may be considered a negative without taking into account what the reaction might be. It’s easy to get excited about something you feel is necessary but make sure you understand what the interested public wants to know and how you are going to tell them.

    • jim

      Really, the electric industry gets the feds and state governments to approve the use of rate payer funds to install so called smart meters, that do nothing for the consumer and is all about the electric utility and one utility thinks a rousing 1.8% savings should be shared with their customers. give me a break. smart metering has been and always was about what it did for the electric utilities and never, ever about the consumer. remember that 140 million smart meters were installed at billions of dollars and the electric utilities earned (or were rewarded) a return on that investment. this is one of the biggest train robberies of all time. smart metering, yea, right, smart for the utility, stupid on the part of doe, state utility commissions, they do nothing, zip, zero for the consumer.