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Increasing Customer Self Service Adoption in Utilities

Most of us already know that properly designed Self-service channels are much more cost-effective and convenient than other traditional customer communication channels like direct calls to Utility's Customer Service Representative or communications through physical paper etc. Then what are the main reasons that self-service adoption rate is still very low?

There are quite a few reasons like unstructured organization of data and process flow, not enough information to make the customer feel confident about doing it on his own etc but if utilities who have all these corrected but still having low adoption rate the most important reason that I personally feel is the inability to attract customer for the first time.

I think everybody will agree that in today's world money is the biggest motivator for the general mass in order to attract them for doing something. But it is also true that incentives are never the best and efficient way to attract customers. 

Do you know how utilities pass on the operational cost-savings to the customer that they are achieving with more use of such self-service channels? 
As part of General Rate Cases (GRC) this cost benefit gets factored in the rate at which customer pays their utility bills. Can't we think about any alternate way to pass on this cost benefit and get additional advantages out of it without spending anything extra than what the utilities are already spending right now? 

When operational cost savings is accounted for in GRC rates, the benefit gets passed to all customers even though there are only few customers (self-service users) who are directly contributing to some part (cost savings due to self-service use over other costly channels) of this cost saving.

Find below some of the options, advantages and ways of incentivizing the customer for more use of self-service -

  • Estimate cost-savings for each of the self-service features over traditional use of the same feature like placing a move-in/move-out/transfer order online instead of speaking to an agent to place the order or getting paperless bill over paper bill etc. Then assign an incentive to each of these features (doesn't need to be all and utilities can decide which one to give incentive for) and provide a credit to the customer as part of their monthly bill based on some of the significant-cost-saving features that were used by the customer in that month/bill cycle.
  • Have lucky draw/sweepstakes for some of the minimal-cost-saving transactions instead of trying to give incentives in pennies.
  • Also arrange for some lucky draw/sweepstakes for customers participating in constructive discussions, content rating, idea generation etc in the utilities social media forum. This is not a direct cost savings for the utility but a very small portion of the money that utilities currently spend on marketing and research can be utilized here to start interactive engagement with customers and thereby getting valuable inputs from the customers.
  • Incentive for Customer  - Providing a greater incentive in a direct way to eligible customers rather than providing very minimal incentive to all the customers.
  • Increase Self-Service adoption - More number of customers will use self-service primarily for the incentive (I am not ignoring the ease of use factor though) and thereby increasing self-service adoption rate.
  • Increase Customer awareness - In order to get the incentives customers will try out self-service on their own and utilities will get a chance to provide sufficient educational content that the customer will come across during the process. Educating the customer about different aspects of his engagement with utility and increasing awareness like energy use, energy efficiency, different billing and payment options etc are major goals of current utilities.
  • Getting valuable inputs from customer - Utilities spend lots of time and money to generate new innovative ideas, getting feedback, doing research on marketing etc. But I think they will get much more better result if they can reach out to the mass through the social media forums and get direct inputs from the end-customers who can be considered as a wider resource pool for utilities own work.
Marketing about this incentive
  • The most common channel in which customer communicates with utility is by calling the utility. Once the automated system (IVR) identifies that the customer is calling for something for which he needs to talk to an agent rather than an automated system and the same service is already available in utilities web portal it can read out a brief message about that alongwith informing the customer that he will be getting an incentive for completing that transaction on his own from the web portal.
  • The most common channel in which utility currently communicates with the customer is the bill and the associated fliers. Even though many customers don't go through these in detail but utilities can inform the customer about this incentive through a message in the bills.
I would like to know what type of issues do you think are there which prevents utilities from using this approach.

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