Utilities look to Netflix audience clustering model for customer engagement
As efforts to engage customers grow, utilities are looking to data analytics, online portals and personalized messaging to better understand diverse customer preferences.
Efforts to make customer engagement more effective are expanding. That engagement is a crucial response to the customer demand driving the power sector’s accelerated shift toward renewables and distributed generation, leaders in the industry have found. Higher levels of engagement also allow utilities to align their interests with their customers.
“For utilities that want to promote smart technologies that shift usage, lower peak demand and lower customer costs, what works is targeting specific customer segments with offerings that address their motivations,” Nathan Shannon, deputy director of Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC), told Utility Dive. “Waiting for them to come to the utility does not work.”
Personalized, targeted survey insights give utilities a better understanding of their customers, and are crucial to utility tasks such as balancing peak demand management with customer costs.
SECC customer focus groups have identified customer segments and ways they can be effectively reached. “Mass marketing to the general population gets very little results,” Shannon said.
Segmentation resembles what Netflix calls “clustering,” according to utility data analytics company Bidgely’s Marketing VP Leesa Lee, and is one of three Netflix customer engagement practices that Bidgely has adapted for utilities. The other two practices are looking beyond customers’ stated preferences to the preferences revealed by their behaviors and making customer visuals appealing.
That is why utility website design is one critical aspect of utility engagement, according to a survey of energy industry executives by SECC and the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA). Over half (56%) of interviewees said ease of use is the most important portal feature, the highest agreeing score by more than 30%.
The Duke Energy and Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) platforms demonstrate many of the best practices of customer engagement, SEPA senior research analyst Sharon Thomas told Utility Dive. But “different customers are responsive to different communications. Digitally-savvy people like everything online, but others still prefer a paper format.”
“Questions about customer engagement are new and utilities are trying to find the winning equation,” Google’s director of global energy and enterprise partnerships, Jeff Hamel, told Utility Dive. Emerging strategies focus on online access to bill payment and customer support, as well as delivering energy usage insights as engagement points.