Creating the Connected Utility

Engage customers in real time while saving costs with an energy CRM platform

November 3, 2022 | Time to read: 7 minutes

Ever since smart metering made digital insights and control more possible, utility companies have been evolving from simple energy suppliers to integrated community partners. At the same time, utilities are facing unprecedented challenges. Old infrastructure was not designed to deal with new problems like the extreme weather events that accompany climate change, or the expected increased load from electrification. The need to provide value-added services like solar and electric vehicle charging is pushing utilities into a new role. They need the skills to run a multifaceted operation with a variety of new business streams.

Utility customers have also evolved, making the customer-provider relationship more complex. Today’s energy consumer has more choices when it comes to how and where they get their energy. Furthermore, they have a host of tools like smart thermostats, smart plugs, and other technology by which they can monitor and control their energy usage. Working more closely with their customers on energy efficiency and sustainability goals, utilities are assuming the role of trusted advisors.

In all these scenarios, utilities are saving costs and energy for both customers and themselves. This partnership requires utilities to seek more insights into the contextual issues influencing their customers’ energy choices: income constraints, communication preferences, community resources, and personal values. Utilities find themselves applying the same situational insight and analytics to human networks as they do to grid operations. It helps that customer relationship management (CRM) platforms are more sophisticated today. Utilities can use predictive analytics to anticipate grid demand based on behavioral insights, and employ real-time usage analytics to match demand. This allows them to balance the energy that the utility supplies with consumer-side supply and a growing ecosystem of clean energy service providers.


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In a way, CRM can be likened to “independent system operations” (ISO) for people instead of assets. An “internet of humans” instead of an Internet of Things (IoT). There are great CRM tools that provide centralized insight into human behavior, the way IoT centralizes insight for asset management. But tools alone are not enough. Utilities seek to improve experiences using the data they already have, applying digital strategies to manage dynamic networks of suppliers, service providers, and partners.

This new way of operating is a big cultural change for utilities. The shift from their historically siloed operating systems toward a more cohesive, integrated approach, bolstered by data, automation, and artificial intelligence (AI) enable a truly connected utility. These tools give utilities the ability to stay responsive to stakeholders so that they not only meet the needs of today, but are ready for the challenges of tomorrow.

There are three characteristics that contribute to the success of a connected utility: customer-centricity, 360-degree customer data strategy, and seamless automation.

Putting the Customer at the Core

Eighty-eight percent of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its product or services. Putting customer experience at the core of the business positions a utility to be more connected in ways that add to lifetime customer value. Why? Because customers expect and demand it.

Today’s customers are looking to do more than just transact over a bill or an outage. They want to be seen and known by their service providers in ways that only a 360-degree customer view makes possible. Similar to other industry experiences, they want to feel like their utility cares for them, knows who they are, and is working alongside them in real time to address their specific energy needs.

Fulfilling these expectations requires an expansive energy CRM platform designed with industry specific needs in mind. Utilities that employ such a platform will gain the ability to design and deliver the following:

  • A completely connected and seamless experience, enabled by energy CRM software for utilities that uses a combination of data, analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI) to give both internal and field service teams a 360-degree view of every touchpoint in the journey.
  • Personalized service with frictionless, 24/7 service powered by automation and characterized by:
    • Insight for both service agents and bots that create a personal connection with each customer.
    • Tailored customer journeys and communications.
    • Proactive offers of relevant products and services.
  • Transformed engagement with customer portals that enable easy, seamless self-service capabilities and the ability to view all personal information in one place, wherever and whenever they may need it.
  • Partner portals to unite diverse new stakeholders around utility customers. New energy programs require utilities to be one-stop marketplaces, technical advisors, fulfillment houses and intake centers. Utilities work with myriad new external partners to deliver these capabilities. Partner platforms help coordinate external trade allies, community partners, and suppliers to provide a seamless experience for utility customers.

Unlocking opportunity begins with unlocking data via energy CRM.

Since the advent of advanced metering infrastructure, familiarly known as “smart metering,” utility IT systems have been collecting valuable customer data that strengthens their customer information systems (CIS). Still, much of this data remains locked away in a variety of siloed systems. To serve the organization and to keep up with rapidly evolving market demands, data needs to be unlocked, made available across the organization (and even to some external stakeholders), and augmented with intelligence tools like AI and machine learning. These steps allow utility companies to have a 360-degree view of the customer, to save operational costs and provide additional value for both customers and stakeholders.

Renewing, Not Replacing Old Systems

Connected utilities integrate back office systems (like billing and CIS systems) with the front office, so that any customer-facing employees or processes have the flexibility and intelligence they need to deliver personalized and relevant customer experiences. Digital transformation then creates more value by making data accessible and usable across the organization.

Don’t worry — modernizing doesn't mean starting from scratch. Instead of replacing legacy systems, utilities can instead build on them to gain new insights from their existing gold mine of data.

Adding Automation, AI, and Machine Learning

Automation, AI, and machine learning capabilities open the opportunity to improve customer service outcomes, increase efficiency across business operations, and make both customer and employee experiences more enjoyable. AI can help your customer service teams gain a better understanding of customer needs and interests so that they can proactively provide the best service possible and/or target specific customer segments with energy incentives that might appeal to them. Getting back to the idea of being the ISO of human systems, AI also enables a utility to use real-time data to more accurately forecast everything from power usage to revenue. This is essential when it comes to planning, for example: modeling how an energy curtailment or outage might affect the grid; or quickly determining how to tap locally-sited batteries to satisfy demand on the grid.

People are as essential to operations as generators and meters.

Including customer insights in a secure, data-driven operating system allows utilities to oversee their entire operation in a way that’s actionable, manageable, and cohesive. Utilities are better positioned to serve their communities when both employees and partner organizations have the information they need to address problems in the field.

Day-to-day service operations have become more complex with more moving parts. Providers manage everything from increased demand on the system to power outages to routine maintenance and meter reading. They need digital solutions that give them the ability to respond faster and effectively resolve issues, while keeping the cost to serve down. Since face-to-face interactions can be one of the most powerful ways to nurture customer loyalty and satisfaction, more utilities are looking for ways to empower field teams and service agents to:

  • Streamline scheduling and enable dispatchers to dynamically make appointments and efficiently organize their calls
  • Equip mobile teams and empower technicians with apps and back-office information that helps them increase productivity and safety
  • Take opportunities when servicing customers to market other relevant products, programs, and services

The connected utility is better equipped to decarbonize.

As the world moves to a sustainable future, utilities are on the front line playing a critical role in enabling widespread electrification across economic sectors. However, this is not something that utility companies can do on their own. Salesforce Energy & Utilities Industry Advisor, Joe Delaney says that demand-side participation is critical to balancing the future renewables-dominated grid: “The transition is happening but, to be successful, energy companies must build trust with the emerging energy prosumer, and secure the community social license critical to building new clean energy infrastructure.”

Already, leaders like ComEd have committed to net zero goals as well as to ensuring equitable access for all communities to energy efficiency, electric vehicle, and demand-side management programs.

As they face increasingly mandated climate risk disclosure regulation, commercial and industrial customers are looking to utilities and energy providers to help them accelerate their own net zero journeys. Utilities are rapidly transforming their business models to provide high-value but complex new demand-side solutions and services to their customers. This new two-sided energy paradigm requires a constant focus on building trust through customer-centricity if we are to achieve our common goal: a fully decarbonized energy system.

Connected utilities are able to undertake these efforts with data and automation tools to back them up. They have the ability to accurately target areas for improvement, track progress over time, and help their customers make changes that lower their carbon footprints.

Furthermore, they can effectively integrate these initiatives with the rest of their business so they can properly manage new utility offerings. This enables them to meet the increased customer demand for renewable energy options, rates that better fit their consumption patterns, and incentives for conservation or demand-side management behaviors that keep the grid reliable, safe, and green.

Connected Utilities Transition from Provider to Partner

Three major trends are converging: burgeoning data capabilities, growing customer leverage, and an “all hands on deck” approach to decarbonization. In response, utilities are becoming more connected and transforming from mere commodity providers to true multi-service community partners. As a result, connected utilities using energy CRM platforms are creating better customer experiences.

By centering on the customer, and focusing on building long-standing, trusted relationships with the communities they serve, utilities will be in the best possible position to meet today’s challenges head on.


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