Consumer engagement for Britain’s smart meter rollout


By Jonathan Spencer Jones

As part of its smart meter rollout, Britain’s government has decided that there should be a central point for consumer engagement, named somewhat ambiguously the Central Delivery Body (CDB).

However, this CDB will not replace the consumer engagement activities of the suppliers and other stakeholders, and rather will work alongside these, presenting the government’s message, centrally coordinated and consistently, on smart metering to all the nation’s consumers.

Specifically, the Department of Energy and Climate Change has outlined, the CDB should:

  • Build consumer confidence in the installation of smart meters
  • Build consumer awareness and understanding of how to use smart meters and the information obtained from them
  • Increase consumer willingness to use smart meters to change their behaviors so as to enable them to reduce their energy consumption
  • Assist vulnerable, low income and prepayment consumers to realize the benefits of smart metering systems and meet their other energy needs.

The CDB formally came into being on the last day of June, having been set up by the larger suppliers through Energy UK, the energy industry trade association. However, little information on it has become available so far, apart from the appointment of the chairman, the former Labour Party general secretary, Baroness Margaret McDonagh.

But obviously a lot of work has been going on in the background – and one of these activities was a roundtable in February to discuss how the CDB can best go about delivering consumer engagement, with the outcomes presented in a recent report.

Out of this roundtable, eight recommendations emerged, of which the first – and arguably most important – is to define and deliver a comprehensive research program to understand how to best deliver the consumer engagement strategy. This makes sense as there is a growing bank of information available, particularly from the U.S., which can be drawn on – and not only of the successful programs, but also those that were less successful.

With segmentation of consumers into defined audiences seen as fundamental for communication, this should also include a segmentation model.

A challenge for the CDB will be to understand the different supplier rollout strategies to ensure that communications are ramped up to coincide with when installs are at high volume across the industry. To this end the CDB should develop a comprehensive engagement plan that uses a segmented multichannel approach to communication. The plan should also explore how it can support the rollout geographically with targeted campaigns to generate interest in a particular area.

It is expected that third party providers will play an important role in the CDB and these should be carefully selected based on their ability to support the engagement strategy. The smart meter messaging should also be aligned across the communicators and again segmented to ensure its impact.

However, it is also recommended the CDB should create an independent point of contact, both online and offline, which can deal with customer questions on smart metering and the rollout.

Finally, it was also felt that, while the CDB is aimed at the residential consumers, there should be further discussion on the best way to deliver smart metering benefits to micro-business customers, who are also receiving smart meters in the rollout.

The CDB is a novel concept and as such, can be expected to be widely watched as it goes about its activities for its applicability in other markets.