The Consumer-Centric Energy Provider: Moving from Concept To Reality

Aug. 27, 2014
What does it take to be a consumer-centric utility? Think of yourself as a consumer goods company with an active storefront, says Marie Bahl McKenna, Tendril’s senior vice president of sales and marketing,

Marie Bahl McKenna, Tendril

What does it take to be a consumer-centric energy provider? Think of yourself as a consumer goods company with an active storefront, says Marie Bahl McKenna, Tendril‘s senior vice president of sales and marketing.

As an energy provider, you’re likely hearing conversations about how the industry is moving to a services model. While all the talk is great, we need to hear less about theory and more about best practices that make this vision a reality.

In my role at Tendril, I am constantly speaking with energy providers who ask my advice on how they can become a services organization. Without pause, I tell them all the same thing: Put the consumer at the center of everything you do.

I know it’s easier said than done. However, the dreaded alternative of not adopting a consumer-centric approach is perhaps scarier than the hard work that it takes to get there. Some industry pundits believe utilities will struggle to adapt and be pushed to the very brink of extinction. We don’t subscribe to this notion, but we do advocate change because nobody wants to be in survival mode – they want to thrive. So if you are sold on the idea of moving to a services model, here is what we recommend you do:

  • Answer the tough questions head on – Moving in this direction will bring up some really tough questions that need to be answered at the outset. For example: What kind of energy provider do you ultimately want to be? Do you want to be solutions oriented, provide value, be customer focused, be a trusted advisor, all of the above? What kind of services do you want to offer? Are you ready to move beyond compliance and tackle a challenging journey, albeit for the benefit of a better future as a company? You need to get concrete about the type of energy provider you want to be.
  • Think of yourself as a consumer goods company with an active storefront – This approach represents a shift in thinking, because we tend to associate “storefronts” with retail companies that offer clothes, electronics and the like. But energy providers are no different. Within this new consumer-centric services model, your business will become a storefront designed to offer tailored energy efficiency programs, as well as various other services and product offerings (i.e. solar, EV charging infrastructure, etc.).
  • Don’t hand over your customer service arm to someone else – If I could say this twice, I would: Don’t put someone else in charge of your storefront. Given how challenging it can be to take the first steps down the path to becoming consumer-centric, it can be very easy to fall victim to a technology vendor that says they will handle your customer service arm for you. Warning! This is a slippery and treacherous slope. Of course this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t partner with technology providers to design the best possible engagement platform. However, it’s critical that you as the energy provider maintain your storefront. Don’t let someone else design your programs and engage your customers. It’s your data, your understanding of the individual – you should own it and leverage the best tools available to create optimal services.
  • Data: It’s what makes the world go ‘round – Data is essential to the energy industry becoming more services oriented.Back to my last point, in order to maintain your storefront, you must not only own your customer data – but use it wisely. Understanding a customer’s unique characteristics, habits and propensity to act is paramount to offering the right services, programs and offers. Leveraging your customer data to hone in on exactly who they are as individuals and what they need is what’s going to put you in a position to thrive over the next 10 years and beyond.

Now that you’re in the right mindset, it’s time to choose a partner to help you take those steps down the path of change. When conducting your evaluations, consider someone who will do the following:

  • Reside behind the scenes – If you considered your partnership as a duck, look for someone who will be the feet furiously swimming below, keeping you calm and collected above the surface.
  • Adapt to your specific needs – Look for a partner who offers leading-edge technology and has the flexibility to serve as the backbone of a storefront designed to fit your individual needs.
  • Be your advisor – In all partnerships, everyone wants someone they can trust and turn to. Your technology partner should be no different and should counsel you on the best path forward, but ultimately leave the final say up to you.

Moving to a consumer-centric services model is no easy feat – it’s hard to change more than a century’s worth of regulations, mindsets, models, etc. But by following the steps I have outlined above, you can move steadily towards a bright – consumer-centric – future.

 Tendril is a  leading provider of energy services management (ESM) solutions. Its open, cloud-based software platform provides the infrastructure, analytics and understanding required to deliver personalized energy services. 

About the Author

Kevin Normandeau | Publisher

Kevin is a veteran of the publishing industry having worked for brands like PC World, AOL, Network World, Data Center Knowledge and other business to business sites. He focuses on industry trends in the energy efficiency industry.