How utilities confront disruption with focus on customers and digital transformation


For a while now, we in the utilities industry have been replacing the traditional, static, one-way relationship between energy provider and consumer with one that is dynamic, situational, and interactive. Known as “Utilities 2.0,” which our colleagues at Deloitte explained a few years ago, it puts the customer at the centre of regulated utility service.

By Kelly James, Vice President and General Manager, Energy & Utilities at Salesforce Industries 

With COVID-19, the momentum and pace of change have accelerated. Relative to other industries that we work with (including financial services, healthcare, insurance, communications, media, and government), utilities were well prepared to continue to provide reliable, resilient, responsive service in the face of a pandemic.

And, behind streaming media services, utilities were one of the most able to respond to the new needs that surfaced as a result of the pandemic. COVID-19 response has added additional speed to the already in progress re-imagining of the utility customer experience. With the pivot to virtual customer service, field service, and employee enablement – all at any time and any place – our industry has a perfect opportunity to leap ahead with digital transformation.

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We’ve observed that utilities starting with customer experience are able to successfully drive operational excellence and return on investment in front- and middle-office digital transformation programs. While thoughtfully increasing customer value, they have been incrementally building the scaffolding for big data, real-time analytics, AI, and ML. When faced with the massive disruption of the past few months, these utilities already had a strong cultural, organizational, and technological structure to build on.

Amplify what you have: utility contact centres can be expanded innovation hubs   

The new decentralized model asks providers to empower customers with an omnichannel digital-first contact centre that allows them to manage their service options. For instance, rather than waiting on hold for a technician or customer service representative to resolve their issue, a younger generation prefers to take matters into their own hands, on whatever device is within reach. They want intelligent, personalized choices, guided by bots, Virtual Assistants, and other AI.

Such flexibility allows customers to explore programme options, seek out new products and services, and create their own personalized offer bundles. It also empowers them to manage bills and make payments when and how they want. In this way, utility providers can be more nimble, and meet the customers where they are by adapting with mobile and customer-centric applications and services.

The innovation doesn’t end with residential utility customers, but can also change the game with the commercial and industrial customers where speed to market is crucial to staying relevant and competitive. Creating the optimal portfolio offering for large, multi-site commercial & industrial customers is a challenge due to:

  • The sheer volume of metering data
  • The dynamism of market pricing data
  • The fragmentation of data sources
  • The complexity of pricing and hedging calculations

The UK’s British Gas has managed to master the data challenges and automate time-consuming processes by using Salesforce Industries Energy & Utilities Cloud to pull AI-generated insights from Gorilla, a cloud-based pricing and forecasting engine built on AWS. They can now deliver quotes in three minutes instead of the three-day standard turnaround they once had.

ENGIE is another great example of leveraging revolutionary tools to empower customers to save energy through a tailor-made solution for each customer. On a Salesforce platform that integrates seamlessly with cloud-based SAP CRM and ISU running on AWS, ENGIE was able to roll out a 360-degree customer view and guided selling process to over 2,900 sales and service agents reaching 6 million contracts at 7 million premises.

Customers and even employees also expressed increased satisfaction with this new relationship of working together toward energy savings and a cleaner carbon footprint. Listening and learning about each customer has become essential and core to ENGIE’s success, and is the only way to have a client-centric yet global approach.

Adapting to the new normal with leaner but more valuable services

Such elasticity and partnership has become even more business-critical in the face of COVID-19. While commercial and residential load profiles have shifted, the needs of customers sheltering in place and businesses managing new hours and shifts have become the focus. Among the most urgent residential issues: suspended or modified collections and disconnection activities, increased digital channel reliance for support and outreach, reduced customer service representative and field worker interaction.

Our own customers at Salesforce Industries have reported similar challenges. In addition to shifting staff to work from home, utilities have been collaborating with their regulatory commissions to work out flexible payment plans, set a moratorium on disconnections and establish new standards and practices for managing bad debt.

The geographically distributed contact centres that a number of our customers support with the Salesforce Industries Vlocity energy & utility products have served them well so far. But as the pandemic continues, these capabilities will need to be revisited to ensure they can stretch resources and sustain remote service for the long haul, maintaining or even increasing operational efficiency as collections lag.

Co-creating with our customers, our customers’ customers, and so on…

One of our most lively and innovative customers, ENGIE, has an ambitious goal of moving to a carbon-free energy future. They always characterize their efforts as “cocreating with customers.” Check out their Dreamforce presentation to see the impressive way that ENGIE took that value from idea to execution.

At Vlocity, we take a similar approach to utilities transitioning to a customer-centric service model. We present a general set of capabilities, which utilities configure based on both immediate and longer-term goals. We hope to make agility something that is transferable: our agility becomes the utilities’ agility, which in turn becomes the customer’s. In this way, we co-create and evolve the new energy economy together.

Contact us to learn more about running Vlocity on AWS

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