Engaging customers with the utility bill of the future

The utility industry is familiar with discussing the utility of the future — but what about the utility bill of the future? Experts at the National Regulatory Research institute, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and the Distributed Energy Financial Group said during a March 17 webinar they are considering ways that regulators and utilities can partner to make change. NRRI hosted the webinar.

If consumers are given more control … they will reduce bills to where they’re getting the right mix of value against cost. Nat Treadway

Billing is the No. 1 reason customers complain, according to data collected by the IURC. The IURC partnered with NRRI in 2015 to host a billing symposium with utilities, regulators and stakeholders in Indiana. NRRI produced a report based on the symposium and is pursuing further research.

“Mostly when people call consumer affairs, they assume their bill is inaccurate because there was an increase in the amount that was due,” said IURC Commissioner Jim Houston. “Typically the bill is accurate but the customer doesn’t understand the factors that caused the bill to increase.”

The purpose of the symposium was to generate best practices without driving toward any mandates, Houston said. Bringing everyone to the table allowed consumers to interact with regulators and utility stakeholders in a way that doesn’t usually happen, said Chetrice Mosley, executive director for external affairs with the IURC.

The data resulting from the symposium and NRRI’s research showed that electricity bill complaints are highest nationwide among all utility billing complaints. Tom Stanton, principal researcher for energy and environment with NRRI, said further research aims to look at consumer needs and interests in detail, identify performance metrics and standards for utilities and identify the future roles of regulators and utilities. This information could help utilities predict and prevent complaints.

But transforming customer billing doesn’t just mean meeting their needs. Nat Treadway, managing partner with Distributed Energy Financial Group, said utilities have the opportunity to create new transactions with consumers.

“People want a higher degree of value from the end uses they like,” Treadway said. “Put the customer in control. If you’re going to be communicating with them, let them pick the channel, pick the frequency. And learn something by measuring their behavior. Customers need more options.”

When given the opportunity and proper education about what their bills mean, customers will take ownership, Treadway said.

“If consumers are given more control, if they’re given the appropriate information over the channel they want, the way they want, and so forth, you give them the means to act,” he said. “They will take more control, they will reduce bills to where they’re getting the right mix of value against cost.”

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