Utility Week

UTILITY Week 21st April 2017

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Operations & Assets UTILITY WEEK | 21ST - 27TH APRIL 2017 | 23 Market view I t's unlikely you'll have missed the govern- ment mandate specifying that all homes and small businesses across the UK must be offered an EU regulation smart meter by 2020. Despite a recent appeal by utilities pro- viders wanting an extension on this cut-off date, the government last month upheld its ruling and confirmed that the existing 2020 deadline will stand. The benefits of smart meters, which are essentially simply devices capable of digi- tally sending frequent gas and electricity consumption readings to energy suppliers, are twofold. Firstly, more precise long-term revenue projections for suppliers. Secondly, better cost control for customers. But with the benefits for both supplier and customer clear to see, why has there been such resistance to the 2020 target among utility providers? The answer lies in the sheer scale of the operation. To give some context to this, it is estimated that 53 million meters will need to be installed in 30 million UK homes and small businesses – this alone will require a combined taskforce of 10,000-plus engi- neers. Add to this the fact that offering and installing a smart meter can necessitate a high degree of logistical planning for each customer, and the 2020 deadline suddenly seems a tall order. What are the challenges? One of the biggest issues that smart meter installers encounter relates to keeping track of job status and knowing where engineers are located at any one time so that customers can be accurately informed and updated on arrival times. In addition, and because customers are not paying for their new smart meter – and tend to be less excited about its installa- tion than if it were a new flatscreen TV, for instance – there is less incentive for cus- tomers to keep their appointments, which means a high instance of cancellations and customer no-shows. So with these obstacles in mind, and the government standing firm on its insistence that the 2020 deadline will not be pushed back, what can utility providers do to make sure that they comply with the smart meter mandate? 1. Optimise customer communication. By adopting and expanding the use of different technologies such as text or email, or intro- ducing consumers to cloud-based mobile apps, energy suppliers can enable their cus- tomers to see their appointment time and engineer's location effortlessly. Sending the customer a text with their appointment time, and giving the customer the ability to reply a quick "yes" to confirm the appointment, leads to faster appoint- ment scheduling and clearer visibility between the provider and customer. Recent research found that while customer com- munication preferences vary from one coun- try to the next, service suppliers across the globe struggle to understand and meet these expectations. Embracing technology, whether it is through text, social media, or interac- tive voice recognition, during smart meter deployment can guarantee that engineers and customers have optimum communica- tion, consequently improving customer ser- vice and experience. 2. Real-time tracking and route optimisation. Offering the customer an engineer-tracking tool is a proven way to increase the likeli- hood of a customer waiting in if an engineer is behind schedule. If an engineer is late, the customer is able to log on to the tracking app and see the engineer's location – similar to tracking your Uber driver's progress – rather than waiting in the dark. In addition, utility providers can adopt route optimisation tools that provide the engineer with the fastest route to the job (based on real-time traffic) and can assign the engineers to jobs in their local region. By doing this, providers can optimise the engi- neer's route and job schedule, allowing engi- neers to arrive onsite quickly and reduce the time spent travelling. 3. Act smarter: match skills and knowledge with the job at hand. Deploying the best engi- neer for the job will not only ensure that the job is done quickly and efficiently, but it will also improve customer service. If an engineer has experience in installing smart meters in blocks of flats, for example, he or she will become accustomed to that specific job and will become faster – and better – at it. Providers can also use machine learning technology to automatically assign engineers to specific jobs, based on their previous experience, training, and expertise. Sending the engineers with the right skills set to spe- cific jobs will make sure that customers are receiving a first-time-fix, so engineers do not have to revisit a job to complete it. Utility companies that adopt all, or at least some, of the above advice are sure to set themselves in better stead to meet the four-year deadline by ensuring that installa- tion appointments are not only booked more quickly, but also executed more efficiently. And, perhaps most importantly, these meas- ures will also support suppliers in delivering optimum customer experiences – something that will feed strong customer retention rates well beyond 2020. On the other hand, suppliers that fail to implement new strategies aimed at optimis- ing their smart metering installation pro- grammes can expect to face severe economic penalties if the all-important cut-off deadline is missed. A number of major utilities provid- ers in the UK have already been dealt sig- nificant six-figure corporate fines for delays relating to the smart meter rollout. While the closing timeframe now set in stone for 2020 seems distant, utilities should avoid inevitable stress along the way and enact a pain-free plan to comply. Alec Berry, VP of consulting and technical services EMEA, ClickSoware It's smart to talk By employing texts and apps and talking to customers, suppliers can minimise missed appointments and maximise the amount of time their engineers spend installing smart meters, says Alec Berry. "Because people are not paying for the smart meter there is less incentive for them to keep their appointments."

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