HomeEvent NewsDo you re-invent the wheel to understand people?

Do you re-invent the wheel to understand people?

Four energy sector experts talk us through the discussions of the Summit Retail Session at EUW17 on Building the Customer Partnership and the Retail sector, writes Florence Coullet, content director of European Utility Week.

“It was a real honour to participate in the discussion on ‘building an emotional connection with the energy consumer’ at EUW 2017. The energy sector has been focused on technology instead of the consumer, but, as Maher Chebbo puts it in his opening address, whatever the technology – it’s the service that makes the difference,” says Fridrik Larsen, CEO, LarsEn Energy Branding.

In order for the technology to be translated into valuable service for the customer, you need to understand the customer and communicate the relevant message. That is where segmentation comes into play, explains Larsen.

“There was a really inspiring presentation from Peter Gönitzer, CEO of Wien Energie (WE). An incumbent utility with a vision of seamless energy services of the future. WE has a commitment to fully becoming a service company and changing the definition of customer services by focusing on delivering an experience. It was interesting to hear how they have looked outside of the energy space to DHL and Amazon and even to Travel & Tourism.

“The road ahead for energy to develop further into the service economy is by making sense of data to understand the customer. Data will help energy companies to understand the customer and segment. The energy sector does not have to re-invent the wheel to understand people – the examples are already there in other sectors. Energy needs to learn from the best in other sectors and make the wheel fit the needs of the energy consumer by making few adaptions and modifications.

“I think that the energy space is not in for an evolution in branding but a revolution in the next ten years in regards to real customer centricity. There are several factors in play that will speed up the transition of energy from a commodity-focused industry to a brand-led service sector,” concludes Larsen.

Fridrik Larsen

Sending the right message to the right people

Francisco Puente, Project Lead, European Commission Project USmartConsumer, goes deeper into the importance of segmentation hereafter:

“’Customers’ is a wide concept, which involves a variety of people with different needs. When we are thinking about providing solutions to these customers we should take into account what are their interests and wishes, and have a clear picture of it. Suppliers should fit their services or products to the aims of the customer and not the opposite, which is the traditional way. This perfectly fits also in the customer centricity concept.

“Companies should try to provide specific services or products to each customer, individually. Sometimes this is not cost-effective, particularly in B2C, so the adequate approach is to use ‘segments’ of customers with similar needs. This step will help to send the right messages and avoid massive messages with low impact (and annoy the customer, with the opposite effect than expected).

“A market survey, with segmentation, is a tool that provides good results at a low cost. This has to be made by an expert company in the energy sector, with skills both in the energy and socio-economic issues.”

Read more: Adapt or die: integrated electricity vending solutions

What’s changed?

Francisco Puente adds: “There is a large and quick change happening since the last 10 or 15 years, totally different than before. A conventional electric meter was installed by the utility in the 50’s and lasted for 40 or 50 years without much maintenance. But how long will a smart meter installed five years ago last? We don’t exactly know. Technology and software are changing so fast that it will change very likely in less than 15 years.

“This change will make professionals from many sectors more intelligent. Yes, more intelligent, as we will need to prepare more flexible solutions to fulfil this need, and consider that in the middle of the deployment of a new solution the need might change.

“Retail and business will have to adapt to this large-scale change, massive information arising from the smart technologies and the “new” customer behaviour. This is something not fully solved so far and many organizations are still working on it”.

Watch the interview with Francisco Puente, during EUW 2016, where he talks about how his organisation compiles its annual smart metering landscape report and shares which European countries were leading smart meter deployments – ‘the front runners’’ and which countries were moving slower – ‘the laggards’ at the time.

More clarity in basic tools

Angeliki Malizou, Energy Policy Officer, BEUC, focused on the shortcomings of the basic tools through which consumers interact/get informed/engage with the energy market such as bills, contracts and offers which must be improved and that clear, simple and transparent information is key in building consumers’ trust.

The consumer centricity mind-set is recognised and applied in the energy sector, but there may be still too great a gap between the practicalities and more specifically what is done at the consumer level to keep the information clear and transparent and in the end build trust.

Stay tuned: during EUW 2018, on the 8th of November, there will be an exciting new discussion in the Summit Retail session: To keep up with the consumer needs, retailers need to bundle new products and services. But how do you bundle present and future products and how do you create new revenue streams? And how do you create long-term value? Besides focusing on these questions, this session also discusses IT solutions concerning customer services, data analysis and CRM.

Read more: Energy business models for the 21st century: the time to innovate is now

Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl
As the Editor of ESI Africa, my passion is on sustainability and placing African countries on the international stage. I take a keen interest in the trends shaping the power & water utility market along with the projects and local innovations making headline news. Watch my short weekly video on our YouTube channel ESIAfricaTV and speak with me on what has your attention.