Voice-controlled smart speakers like Echo and Google Home are transforming the way we interact with data in the home.
In a recent US survey, 27 percent of respondents said they own a smart speaker already, and many more have indicated interest in adopting the technology in the near future.
Why should utilities care about smart speakers?
At first, people mainly asked their smart speaker to play music or access news via the internet. But now, users rely on these devices for a whole range of daily activities, from shopping and ordering food, to controlling home security and other smart home systems.
According to a 2018 market study, for example, 37 percent of smart speaker early adopters regularly use them to control household devices like lighting, thermostats and appliances.
As smart speakers rapidly become an essential part of people’s lives, they’re influencing customers’ expectations about how they get information and how they interact with it.
For instance, 45 percent of survey respondents said they now spend less time with radio in favor of their smart speakers, and 38 percent reported offsetting time spent with their smartphones.
For the many utilities that have relied heavily on these two channels for communications and marketing, voice-controlled devices provide an important new opportunity to engage with customers, empower them with real-time information on how their homes use energy, and help them create smart systems to manage their energy use successfully.
Recent research showed that 60 percent of smart speaker owners said they’re ‘probably’ or ‘definitely’ interested in a utility app that makes use of voice-activated capabilities.
Utilities that can quickly leverage voice-controlled devices in this way will create a competitive differentiator that not only helps customers directly, but also promotes a positive and ‘cutting edge’ brand image.
What opportunities do smart speakers offer for utilities?
To take advantage of voice-control technology, you need to build a named ‘skill’ (for Echo devices) or ‘action’ (for Google Home). For example, you might call it ‘Smart Energy’ or ‘Utility Action.’ The user then calls on that skill or action to access her desired information: ‘OK Google, ask Smart Energy how I can save money this winter.’
So far, only a dozen utilities in North America have created skills or actions. And for those, the functionality is pretty limited––hearing your account balance or receiving generic tips on energy efficiency, for example.
Less than a quarter of utilities’ skills or actions allow customers to pay their bill using voice, and none link their energy-saving advice to a customer’s actual energy use.
So, having only scratched the surface of what’s possible to date, how could utilities leverage voice-control technology further, to help achieve their business goals?
1. Build deep connections with customers by regularly sharing valuable information.
Smart speakers provide a responsive rather than proactive medium––they only provide information when asked. So, your skill or action should certainly allow customers to ask about your current rebates, dynamic rate structures, programs and services, and perhaps get real-time information on generation sources.
But to ‘get in front of’ your customers more directly, you could also create bite-size information packages to include in customers’ daily ‘flash briefings.’ These might include a ‘heads up’ that the customer is on track for a really low energy bill this month, or a quick warning about how upcoming weather events might affect energy use.
2. Help customers enroll in utility programs.
Allowing customers to enroll in efficiency programs directly from their smart speaker massively streamlines the process for them, and also potentially reduces acquisition costs for the utility.
3. Walk customers through a home energy audit.
Asking simple questions and providing immediate feedback step-by-step, utilities could help customers learn about efficiency opportunities in their home––and how to take advantage of them with program incentives, for example.
4. Help customers control other smart devices.
Smart speakers provide an easy and intuitive user interface for customers to save energy by dynamically controlling settings across multiple connected smart home devices.
5. Improve the customer experience and reduce call volumes.
Hands-free, easy-to-use smart speakers are an ideal platform to provide frequently requested information to customers, who feel excited to engage with this channel. And if this strategy reduces calls to customer service centers by even a small proportion, a utility’s investment in the technology will quickly be repaid.
Voice-control technology certainly looks set to play a vital role for utilities, helping them to engage with customers at a deeper level, and to meet their efficiency goals in an increasingly demanding market landscape. To learn more about this new technology and discover how Franklin Energy can help your utility build deeper relationships with your customers, schedule a meeting with an expert today.
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
National Public Media (2018) The Smart Audio Report: https://www.nationalpublicmedia.com/smart-audio-report/latest-report/
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/
Senior Director of Sales
With extensive industry experience and a passion for innovation, Mark Newton is a proven sales leader. He creates strong relationships with existing and perspective utility clients to find unique solutions for their needs. Mark leads the development of new customer engagement solutions, develops new software opportunities, and provides valuable insights for business development strategies. He holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Miami University.