What Do Electric Customers Really Want?

I posed this question to Mel Gibson, who famously explored “What Women Want”.    He muttered something about Jews and vodka and slinked down into the gutter.   So I was pretty much left on my own to figure this one out.    What do electric customers really want?   My own answer:  lower prices, no hassles and certainty.   Yes, I’m certain of it.
Some others have differing opinions — some of with which I agree.  For example,  Bill Roth wrote in EnergyBiz that there are five new megatrends in energy consumption.     He explains them as:
1. Consumers are in active pursuit of lower bills.  He cites a recent Nielsen survey that concludes that consumers now view financial headwinds as their new norm.  They no longer expect an improved economy to improve their household finances. Consumers, most especially the millennial generation, now look to themselves to find answers that reduce their bills, including electricity bills. This consumer pursuit of lower monthly bills places every business including the electric utility industry at a crossroad. Either a business supplies lower monthly bills solutions or their customers will figure out a way to do it themselves
2. The millennial generation, which is looking for electric services that:
  • Embrace their beliefs
  • Be cool with a purpose
  • Offer affordable and authentic products
  • Demonstrate enterprise-scale authenticity
  • Be transparent because there are no secrets
3. Moms.   He seems them as “fighting mad”,   increasingly viewing  fast food, chemicals and pollution as threats to the wellness of their loved ones. Activist moms hold their electric utility to two expectations. The first is to put the wellness of their loved ones above all other considerations. But these moms also manage the household budget. They expect the companies they do business with, including their utility, to provide products and services that align value with values
4. CEOs finally committing to renewable energy. Natural Capitalism is finally gaining a beachhead in the industry-world with sustainability seen as a way to  reduceoperating costs, increase customer alignment and mitigate risks.   He cites Walmart making sustainability a core platform for achieving everyday low price leadership. Apple  is driving the company to green their supply chain in response to customer CSR issues. And CEOs like Alan Mulally at Ford to Clif Bar’s CEO Kevin Cleary are incorporating sustainability as a core corporate attribute. Electric utility revenue preservation will require a c-suite alignment with the growing number of CEOs that are incorporating sustainability into their strategies and operations
5. Finally, he views consumer acceptance of cost reducing disruptive technologies.  Increasingly electric utility customers are adopting this trend to control their costs. This trend is being enabled by global economies of scale for renewable energy, batteries and smart building systems. He points out how IEA’s projection that renewable energy will supply more energy to the global grid than natural gas by 2016
In concluding, Roth views today’s customer engagement path is as different as an electric bill insert, a tweet and crowd-sourcing.   They are buying into disruptive technologies in renewable energy, energy storage and building operations and are searching for technologies, products and businesses that offer the winning combination of “cost less, mean more.” Market research confirms they “want it all” where they pay lower bills for smarter, healthier and greener solutions.
Roth is somewhat optimistic in that most consumers aren’t going to spend the time to gauge all of their options and the utilities are counting upon these “transaction costs” to dissuade customers from this analysis.    But JD Powers’ most recent survey of electric customers’ attitudes towards utilities is revealing:  most customers don’t know about their options and, as a result, don’t really trust their utilities.    I don’t blame them.   New rate structures dependent upon fixed costs being pushed by utilities combined with their antipathy towards distributed generation have made utilities the enemy of the enlightened customer.   Any effort by the residential customer to explore alternatives to the utility is going to be attacked by the utilities.
I hope that Roth is correct in his assessment of the new demands of the 21st Century electric customer.    They should be asking for more.   And they should be intolerant to utilities who struggle to offer less.

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