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Smart meters: not everyone will be a winner

Kill or cure: smart metering could dispel consumer mistrust of suppliers – or confirm it

In terms of utilities’ reputation with their customers and the public more widely, smart metering is a double-edged sword.

Yes, it has the potential to improve the energy service customers receive and hence improve suppliers’ reputations. But handled badly, it could be another nail in the coffin for companies, which are already held low in customers’ esteem.

So how can companies ensure smart meters become tools to improve relationships with customers rather than create further mistrust? A consumer survey by experience design consultancy Foolproof suggests some interesting areas of engagement:

  • Respondents want accurate billing and the ability to understand their consumption. Suppliers should ensure smart meters deliver this.
  • Respondents didn’t make a link between smart meters and environmental benefits. Utilities could take the credit for making customers greener and cutting bills – for example, by offering off-peak tariffs and demand-response initiatives – as Vodafone presented lower call roaming charges across Europe (demanded by an EU directive) as its own initiative. ”Potentially this could improve relationships with consumers, but it depends how they perceive these sorts of arrangements and how the utilities promote it,” says Richard Williams, programme manager at Cambridge Consultants. ”If the offer is actually more complicated than the current tariff structure and it’s not done right, it could end up disenfranchising the consumer further.”
  • Respondents see little or no value in their current relationship with their supplier. Utilities must address this and engage with other key stakeholders like Ofgem and consumer groups.

There is an inherent risk in not developing a more strategic approach to customer relationships – namely that someone else will.

This article was written by Alastair Pickering, research and operations director at Alva and released in full on Utility Week.

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