With utilities puzzling over their future business model, one potential approach to gaining some insights is to ask their future customers what they envisage – and this is what the Washington, DC-based energy management consultants DEFG have just done, with some interesting findings.

DEFG gathered together a diverse group of students at New York University (NYU) to develop their 2020 vision of the future utility customer experience. Working with NYU Gallatin Professor Peter Rajsingh, the students were divided into small teams that conducted market research and trends analysis, and then brought the vision to life through a narrative and visual demonstrations of the future. The interactions chosen by the students ranged from new bill pay options, to future energy management and advances in clean technologies, to a new paradigm for low income consumers to earn energy credits.

From these the four finalist teams presented to senior executive members of the Utility Customer Research Consortium (UCRC), from which the winning team – “Future of Energy 2020” comprised of Katarina Addiego, Carter Barnhart, Andrew Wagner-Trugman and Max Waldman – was selected.

Their winning Vision 2020 centered on a story depicting a young couple with different needs and expectations as they navigated buying a new home that featured a number of new technologies and applications that both managed energy and were environmentally friendly. The utility served as a partner and was proactive in assisting the young couple with their decision-making, even providing an “energy concierge” to the couple.

“Representing their generation – millennials – it was interesting how all the students rooted visions of the future customer experience in social contexts, thereby humanizing the relationship between customers and utilities,” said Rajsingh. “Transparency and social responsibility were key themes that were woven into all the Vision 2020 presentations. The winning team had especially strong visuals and attentiveness to detail and customer concerns, e.g. future costs, aesthetics and functionality.”

Commenting, Jamie Wimberly, DEFG’s CEO, added: “Young adults expect to be not only engaged with their utilities in the future, but also look to the utility to support a seamless mix of consumer technologies, devices and interactions on the customer’s terms. The glue of the future customer experience is a focus on design aligned with customer lifestyles. In other words, for the millennial generation, the future customer experience represents the digitization of the utility customer experience, and ultimately, a very different relationship between the customer and the utility from today.”