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From 1984's Telescreens to Smart Speakers: How Lessons Learned Can Accelerate Customer Portal Adoption

“…you could not assume that you were much safer in the country than in London. ... there was always the danger of concealed microphones by which your voice might be picked up and recognized...” - 1984 by George Orwell

In 1949, George Orwell imagined a world where we were never beyond the reach of microphones listening in on us with voice recognition. Almost 70 years later, the smart speaker has become the fastest adopted technology ever. Why? And what does this have to do with utility programs? Let’s take a look.

CEP Evolution

For those of you new to our series on consumer engagement platforms (CEP), let’s spend a moment on what this emerging technology does and why it is important. With the rapid adoption of smart technology in US homes and businesses over the last decade and almost universal connection to the internet, the energy ecosystem is changing.

To engage directly with customers, most CEPs include an online customer portal that connectsonline-customer-portal consumers with their utility, showing their energy use in real time and offering customized products and rate plans, making good use of the huge amounts of data from smart technologies, for both provider and consumer.

It also, importantly, provides the foundation for personalized customer service and relationship building—so that providers can understand what consumers want to do with energy, and can help them to do it better.

However, customer portals still have a few barriers and challenges to overcome before they’ll gain acceptance across the board.

Perceived risks

The Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC) recently reported data showing that many customers have significant concerns about risks involved with using an online platform to communicate with their utility and manage their energy usage.

For example, of 1,292 surveyed customers, about one-third of those who said they were not likely to use an online platform agreed with the statement that doing so “Would put my private personal information at risk.” A similar proportion agreed that the platform “May force me to see ads and marketing from manufacturers and contractors.” The table below shows the survey results for all six perceived risks statements.


Interestingly though, these results show that about the same proportion of people who were likely to use the platform also agreed with these statements (except on the question of personal information security).

So Likely users seemingly have the same degree of concern about the risks as Not likely users—but they don’t reject the idea of the platform because of those concerns.

Looking at the data for perceived benefits of the platform, we see that a much greater proportion of Likely users agree with the benefit statements than Not likely users.


Based on this feedback, it appears that Not likely users are rejecting the platform because they don’t feel that the benefits outweigh the perceived risks.

To overcome this problem and encourage as high an adoption rate of a platform as possible, utilities should first conduct surveys among potential users to find out specifically what Likely users perceive as the significant benefits.

Then, they should design products and services to deliver on those specific benefits and highlight them in communications and outreach. While understanding and countering perceived risks is also useful to convert both Likely and Not likely users, targeted education about the benefits will likely have a disproportionately helpful effect in tipping Not likely users into the fold.

Thinking back to our smart speaker analogy (I have named my smart speaker “Big Brother”), today’s consumers are performing the same risk-benefit analysis and deciding that the convenience and wide array of benefits drastically outweigh the risks of having a listening device hanging on your every word. Consider how many services (now or over time through expansions) and benefits you can deliver through a platform when evaluating your options, as this will likely influence uptake and perceived value by potential users.

Education and outreach

Just as potential users may reject a new technology because they perceive the relative risks to be too high, some may do so because of other misconceptions or unanswered questions about the resource.

To earn its role as a trusted energy advisor, a utility must anticipate and address the issues and concerns facing its customers, not just respond to questions.

Channels offering one-on-one communication with courteous and knowledgeable customer service representatives obviously provide a vital customer touchpoint. But a coordinated and comprehensive consumer engagement strategy must also involve proactive educational outreach, through multiple online and in-person channels, to help increase consumer awareness and receptiveness to new opportunities and services.

Oh, and by the way, if you are wondering if voice functionality should be part of your CEP functionality, the answer is definitely yes. But, we will save the details on voice for another time.  

Ok Big Brother, end my article.



SECC (2018) Consumer Platform of the Future, Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative: https://smartenergycc.org/consumer-platform-of-the-future-report/

SECC (2018) 2018 State Of The Consumer Report, Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative: https://smartenergycc.org/2018-state-of-the-consumer-report/

Eric Wall
Written by Eric Wall

Technology Product Manager
Eric Wall possesses a unique balance of visionary thinking and pragmatic rationalism. This nature has made him the go-to technical guru for both his team and clients. He supports utility programs’ goals and upholds customer satisfaction by building and managing critical technologies and strategies. He is always searching for more efficient ways to streamline processes and alleviate end-user pain points. Eric holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and has earned certifications in energy management, demand side management and engineering.


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