Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. Accordingly, a 'genius' is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework.
- Thomas Edison
Utility Customer Service Entering a New Phase

By Jon T. Brock, President, Desert Sky Group, LLC

February 8, 2012


I have recently been covering utility billing and customer service technology issues. Last week I covered new functionality that utilities themselves are beginning to ask for when it comes to the customer information system (CIS). Many of you responded to that newsletter with feedback related to progress that has been and still needs to be made. Granted, we as an industry have come a long way with dynamic pricing, demand response, smart meters, renewable integration via net metering and net billing. Yet we have a long way to go.


One reader challenged that some of the functionality being requested by utilities require fundamental changes in how we provision customer service. For instance, why does billing need to be a batch process? Many of the new functionality require real-time billing that can support scale and allow new features such as starting new rates on any date (not just on the cycle date) and time (not just midnight). Another reader suggested that billing determinant calculations move to the “smart” meter itself. I know that the meter data management (MDM) vendors have been entertaining billing determinant calculations in the MDM, which already performs validation, estimation, and editing. Interesting that the MDM market is consolidating quickly – e-Meter/Siemens, Ecologic Analytics/L+G, and Itron and Oracle having their own MDMs.


Interacting with customers, which many are calling consumer engagement, includes new technologies such as mobile apps, social networks, smart thermostats, and in-home displays. Would you download an “app” from your utility if you could see the status of electricity, gas, water (on/off), report outages, see usage in near real-time, set a profile of commodity use in your home, and monitor the results from anywhere in the world? Would you pay for that app? In a couple of months I plan to attend the AGA/EEI Customer Service Conference & Exposition in Ft. Worth, TX ( Many of these topics will be addressed there. While I cannot do justice to the planned agenda found at (, a few of the general session topics include:


  • Building a New Customer Experience
  • Creating Do It Yourself Customers
  • The Customer is Already Smart
  • The State of Utility Customer Interactions
  • Understanding Online Customer Satisfaction


I have been known to look at utility customer service through generational lenses, many times comparing how my own family interacts with others. Myself? I never call the utility unless I have to. When I have to, I may call the call center. Last night I interacted with Comcast via online chat on their website, which is a huge step for me. My son, who is 15 years old, would rather text than speak on the phone. He will certainly download apps to the tablet and run them until he drains the batteries (energy efficiency is a topic for another time). When will he be a utility customer? If his mom and dad are successful in getting him through college and into the job market, in less than ten years. How will the utilities interact or engage him?


Utility customer service is entering a new phase. I hope to see you in Ft. Worth.


Jon Brock is President of utility and energy advisor Desert Sky Group, LLC. He can be reached at

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