John Hoggard, Principal, Global Utilities & Telco, Quadient, considers the importance of data analytics in building trust
When the deadline for nationwide smart meter installations was pushed back to 2024, it piled on frustration for customers. Many of them are annoyed that promises made in the government’s extensive advertising campaign around smarter billing and energy usage were broken. Although the process has not been the smoothest, there are still plenty of opportunities for energy providers who use the data they have at their disposal – both during the rollout period and into the future once they are operational.
Following a period of low customer confidence, the extension offers an opportunity to properly prepare for nationwide installation and rebuild trust. As energy companies are providing an essential service, there’s a myth that customer loyalty in the industry is guaranteed. However, the entrance of new challengers to the market makes it harder to differentiate on price; coupled with regulations making it easier to switch, consumers have more choice than ever and are less likely to stick with one company for too long. This is precisely why energy providers must seize the opportunity the deadline extension offers to look at ways to intelligently capitalise on smart meter data.
Data aids communication during the tech transition
First and foremost, for customers to trust their provider during a period of any transition, they need timely communication of any changes. Keeping customers in the loop during the smart meter rollout programme will be crucial – be that regarding improvements to technical features if they have one installed, the date their meter will be fitted, or even wider regulatory changes. The key is to communicate through the channel of the customer’s choice, so that updates stay as timely, relevant, and likely to be read, as possible.
For existing customers who already have smart meters, providers must also make sure they are quickly resolving any tech-related issues their customers are experiencing. A Which? report found technical faults included: smart meters not working when customers switched suppliers, failing to connect with solar panels, and not syncing to their in-home displays. If providers want to turn this around and come out on top with customers, they must wisely use the extra time that the deadline extension affords and focus on fixing these issues while they can.
Using analytics to put customer data to use
Once rollout is finally completed, a new world of data opportunity will open up. A 2019 survey found almost half of consumers want their energy provider to use smart meters to improve customer experience. They must follow through on this, using the data smart meters can generate to benefit account holders.
If they can intelligently analyse this data, it can add value for customers and make their lives easier. In practice, there are three main ways this data can be put to use:
- Using customer data to offer value-added services: For example, smart meter data could identify an anomaly in a vulnerable customer’s consumption pattern, enabling providers to contact them in case it’s a sign of an emergency. Another service could be offering greener energy options: smart meters give suppliers an enhanced insight into the level of demand, allowing operators to better plan the integration of renewable energy into the grid.
- Analysing customers’ habits to offer proactive advice on reducing energy consumption: Proactively sharing tips with customers to reduce spending – for example, alerting them if their heating setting is too high – is far more helpful than just encouraging savings by showing the exact amount spent.
- Offering personalised promotions or services based on user habits: By identifying customers’ most active usage periods, when they’re in or out of the house, and even when they’re on holiday, suppliers can provide more relevant advice and offer personalised additional services. For instance, they could offer targeted insurance if the customer frequently leaves the house for lengthy periods of time.
Smart meters offer energy providers countless opportunities to think outside the box and improve customer experience. And, with the national rollout deadline being extended, providers must use this time to truly futureproof their offering. This not only means bouncing back from a period of low customer confidence by rebuilding trust and fixing many of the technical pain points experienced so far, but preparing to actively use the data smart meters provide to offer higher levels of customer service. Suppliers who do so will be well on the way to seizing the opportunity the deadline extension offers, ensuring smart meter frustrations are a thing of the past.