When the Government committed to every home having a smart meter by 2020, it was seen as a positive move. Aimed at both empowering consumers and helping the UK to meet its ambitious climate change targets, the Government rightly pinpointed the need to bring household energy products into the 21st century.

Such a huge shake-up to the UK’s retail energy market would not be without its challenges anyway, let alone on the scale that the Government planned for - fitting 53 million smart meters in over 30 million premises over the next four years. It is no surprise then that utility companies were caught on their heels and, coupled with technology and infrastructure setbacks, there has naturally been a significant delay in the roll-out of the meters.

We’ve all seen the numerous customer complaints following improper installation of metres, from billing glitches to IT system failures. For energy suppliers, this could quickly result in losing customers and such, it is crucial to make the installation process as efficient and seamless as possible.

Opportunities

The challenges in rolling out the meters also opens up a number of opportunities for utility companies. In particular, it provides the perfect chance to showcase the strength of their customer services’ offering, allowing them to engage with their customers about new products and getting ahead of their competitors in the process.

Connecting with customers when installing smart meters gives suppliers the opportunity to add more value to their customers: whether that is helping them find the best deal, sharing information about the various self-service options available to them or simply making it easier for customer to view their consumption and manage costs.

As a global provider of customer services with over 10 years’ experience serving utility companies, Convergys, understands better than anyone how a proactive customer services strategy can boost an organisation’s commercial objectives.

Here are some basic, but guiding principles on how, with the right customer service strategy, smart meters can deliver for energy providers:

• Smart meters give an opportunity to change the perception of a generation. A 2014 YouGov survey found that the levels of confidence and trust of utility suppliers was lower than many other comparable sectors. Just 7% of customers said that they trust suppliers to act in their best interests. The same survey found that 76% of customers attributed bills rises to ‘utility suppliers wanting to make more profit’ and the rollout of smart meters offers suppliers the chance to show they are genuinely acting on behalf of their customers and not for commercial reasons.

• Smart meters will allow suppliers to move away from a reliance on pricing alone to win customers. Having the capability to develop a truly rounded view of a customer’s behaviours will allow suppliers to react and eventually develop smarter, proactive customer centric propositions based on reality. This not only helps to improve relationships with customers but also helps energy suppliers work out which products are favoured by consumers.

• Smart meters will increase the accuracy of settlement and ensure equity among customers. The accuracy of wholesale market settlement between generators and retailers would be increased if data from interval metering (rather than from profiling) were available and used in settlement. In addition, interval meters have the potential to remove cross-subsidies between customers where simple averaged prices are applied to all customers.

There is no doubt that the world is going digital and this is no different for the energy industry. The roll-out of smart meters offers utility companies the unique opportunity to use traditional customer service methods to showcase knowledge of 21st century products. The opportunity is there for energy companies to not only build relationships with their customers, but more importantly improve their understanding of what their customers want and be at the forefront of a revolution in the way customers view utility suppliers.