Utilities are moving quickly to secure a relationship with their customers before those customers develop a keen interest in alternatives to centralized power, perhaps aided by third parties. Utilities can lead change or fight it. In fact, they're doing both.
The "customer experience" is a two-way street in more ways than one. And creating a compelling customer experience has become a horse race of sorts. I'll explain.
Enlightened utilities often engage in listening to understand their customers, their level of knowledge and interest in knowing more, participating more, managing more—all in order to make the utility-customer, supply-load relationship more dynamic and responsive. The results reflect that utilities can be adept at meeting the expectations of a savvy customer base that increasingly demands more from an industry that has done its job so well that few understand what's behind flicking a light switch.
That said, and American ingenuity being what it is, the amount of energy and money being expended on alternatives to centralized power also means that utilities increasingly will deal with customers who seek new terms for that utility-customer relationship. From rooftop solar power generation with net metering to military bases, hospitals and universities seeking microgrids to commercial and industrial efforts at distributed generation to communities pursuing municipalization, many customers increasingly seek independence from the centralized power model.
In that sense, the "customer experience" might also be viewed as the utility experiencing the customer—and not just those customers seeking to improve the relationship, but those seeking to leverage it to their own advantage.
We've run a number of columns that treat both concepts. So as various parties in the centralized power industry meet in Fort Worth this week at the AGA/IEE Customer Service Conference, it's good to see a few new-ish ideas front and center on the agenda, in addition to the nuts-and-bolts issues. (Full disclosure: Energy Central is a co-sponsor of the event.)
"The business landscape for utilities is shifting rapidly," according to a teaser for today's opening general session. "Whether it's price pressure, the need to develop new revenue sources, managing growin