In 2015, Amazon’s first voice-controlled smart speaker, Echo, was released across the United States, along with its virtual assistant service Alexa. Since then, sales have exploded. Amazon now ships tens of millions of units each year, and competing devices from Google and Apple are also gaining impressive market penetration.
Google has repeatedly expressed its confidence in voice-controlled (VC) technology as the future of digital interaction, and Amazon is even working with new-home builders to integrate Alexa into people’s lives from the moment they move in.
Manufacturers are incorporating virtual assistants into a whole range of new smart products, too. For example, the ecobee4 smart thermostat features Amazon’s Alexa, and Google Assistant is now included on more than 500 million devices across 450 brands.
Every indication is that VC virtual assistants aren’t just a passing fad. And as they become the standard way to interact with companies, customers will expect their utilities to offer this functionality too.
Data from early-adopter utilities and customer reviews, and from smart device companies like ecobee and Google’s sister company Nest, can help shed light on what customers really want from VC functionality––which will be key to success for utilities.
- Customers want personalized advice on how to save money
Customers want tailored energy efficiency tips from their utility that will help them save money. They want the advice to reflect their unique home characteristics and energy consumption patterns, so they can be sure it’s relevant for them and also have an idea how much they’ll save.
- Customers want to learn about their energy usage
Many customers are curious about how their homes use energy and want to track their consumption primarily for eco-conscious reasons. Smart speakers can help them do this. For example, a customer might ask ‘Hey Alexa, how much energy did I use last week?’ or ‘OK Google, alert me when I use more energy than average.’
In fact, tracking also plays a big role in improving behavioral energy efficiency, and therefore saves customers money too. For example, people might assume they save energy on air conditioning by turning it on only when they get home from work, but tracking data might show it’s actually more efficient to maintain a more gradual flow throughout the day.
Texas-based Reliant is one of many energy companies now offering plans featuring VC smart speakers and thermostats. Reliant’s algorithms track up to 96 readings a day and can alert customers to big usage changes indicating a potential problem, like a duct leak or an AC failure, so they can quickly fix it and get their energy usage back on track.
According to Jeff Hamel, head of energy partnerships at Nest, customers with a smart thermostat connected to their Google Assistant are interacting with their energy usage much more in general, and saving 10 to 15 percent on their bills.
- Customers want to be able to pay their energy bills
Customers want to check their account balance using their VC virtual assistant, but it’s highly inconvenient if they must then shift to another platform to pay their bill.
Providing a fast, simple path to payment will be a vital part of any utility’s VC interactivity.
- Customers want reliability and robustness
Customers expect trustworthiness and reliability when they interact with their utility via a smart device, and they’ll get frustrated if a feature doesn’t work smoothly. Utilities must thoroughly test their offerings before release, and make sure that supported devices can deliver a truly positive experience that customers will rave about.
Matthew Guarini, a top energy analyst at Forrester Research, says that historically, consumers’ interactions with utilities have typically been limited and negative––the average person spends just eight minutes a year interacting with their utility, often in frustrating contexts like sorting out a billing mistake or dealing with a power outage.
To seize the opportunity to demonstrate leadership, innovation and genuine care for their customers––and to stay on the leading edge of the VC trend––utilities should be investing in emerging technologies that can help preemptively meet the real and evolving needs of their customers.
If you're interested in learning more about how Franklin Energy's technology solutions can deepen your relationship with your customers, schedule a demo with our technology experts!
National Public Media (2018) The Smart Audio Report: https://www.nationalpublicmedia.com/smart-audio-report/latest-report/
Snell, E. (2018) ‘Voice Control Changes Everything: Why Utilities Should Care About Virtual Assistants’, E Source: https://www.esource.com/10059-001/3/voice-control-changes-everything-why-utilities-should-care-about-virtual-assistants
Swank, M. (2018) ‘Smart Technologies and Digital Assistants Are Helping Utilities Engage With Their Customers’, Adweek: https://www.adweek.com/digital/how-smart-devices-and-digital-assistants-help-utilities-engage-with-customers/
Chief Innovation Officer
With over 20 years of experience in technology services, Steve Malloy has done everything from develop software solutions to implement solutions with Fortune 500 clients. He combines his ability to understand customer needs with his talent to develop and test potential solutions, ultimately creating platform solutions for broad implementation. Steve serves on several boards for renewable efficiency venture companies. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Carleton College and an MBA from the University of Chicago.