Insights and News /

03 September 2019 5 min read

Making the UK smarter - one meter at a time…

Andrew Millerd

Andrew Millerd
Director | Energy, utilities and resources | London

Simon Duncan (E.ON)

Simon Duncan (E.ON)
Head of smart, transformation and governance | E.ON

How E.ON uses AI and Machine Learning to understand customers – and give them more control

On the frontline of the UK’s energy revolution are the technicians that are installing smart meters in people’s homes every day – household by household. For them, the government’s target for energy companies to roll out 53 million smart meters by the end of 2020 is very real. E.ON has so far installed smart meters in just over 30% of their customers’ homes and is now using advanced analytics to learn about and tailor communications to its customers. This and increasing the number of available communication channels enables E.ON to identify and contact customers however they prefer. It’s an approach that’s ensuring E.ON is generating the right amount of installation appointments to keep their 1,500 technicians busy, while not over-booking and disappointing customers.

Customer demand in tandem with field capacity planning

Now that the first wave of enthusiasts and early adopters have had their smart meters installed, energy companies are facing the difficult task of bringing their remaining customers onboard. E.ON has taken a bold step forward: bringing the customer information they already have together, and using AI and Machine Learning to detect patterns that predict customers’ preferred communication channels. In joining up previously disconnected data points - such as property size, billing and previous contact history - E.ON now has unique insight about their customers that allows them to tailor their approach and discover what information they present to them to win them over.

Having insight into which customers are most likely to book an installation appointment means E.ON can more accurately forecast expected appointment generation volumes. On top of that, E.ON has developed new tools and processes to balance appointment generation forecasts with field capacity. The result is accurate long-term forecasts for field utilisation and certainty and confidence to strategically plan ahead.

E.ON’s transformational approach – with Baringa Partners at its side – has propelled them to market leader status in consumer engagement.

Getting the customer journey right every time

But it’s not just about targeting the right customers. It’s about getting the whole customer experience right, and giving them control. For E.ON, this meant streamlining their customer communications and using channels that customers wanted to use. For some this might be their mobile phone, for others it’s an email, the website, or a letter. E.ON also introduced a 2-way text system so customers can book appointments via SMS, and start and stop the appointment-booking process any time at their convenience. It also meant transforming existing processes, for example, reducing online booking by 14 clicks and shrinking the lettering journey from three weeks to one.

“What matters most is convenience for our customers. At E.ON we’re leading the energy transition for customers, which means we make things smart, sustainable and personalised, offering every customer an energy solution that’s right for them. We want to make booking an appointment for their smart meter installation as easy as possible, so they feel and know that we understand them and put them in control,” says E.ON’s Head of Smart Transformation, Simon Duncan. “AI and Machine Learning give us greater insight into our customers and help us predict how they might respond, so we can match their needs and preferences with our offering. Our messages are much more salient now and we use our different channels in a much more sophisticated way to match different customer journeys”, he adds.

Paris Smalley, Smart Strategy & Engagement Manager says, “Our new approach to engaging with customers has also seen us working more collaboratively across business functions. This means we are now able to rapidly respond to customer insights and provide our customers with energy solutions that create a sustainable future for them and our business.”

Field force technicians are at the forefront of the energy revolution

AI and Machine Learning have the potential to create a truly efficient appointment booking process, but the customer experience doesn’t end there. The installation is an opportunity for energy companies to ‘connect’ with their customers. What would have historically been a simple half hour job to fit or mend an electric or gas meter, can now be up to two hours that field force technicians spend with each customer in their home. In a world where advanced technologies are often diminishing interactions with real people, these experienced engineers are spending more face-time with customers than ever. And here’s the unexpected curveball: in an era of supercharged efficiency, this is not actually a bad thing – quite the opposite.

“Our field force technicians are our ambassadors for the new way of consuming energy,” says Mark Wooldridge, E.ON’s Head of Smart Delivery and Meter Operations. “They ensure our customers understand the benefits of a smart meter and give personalised energy efficiency information. We know from feedback from our workforce, that’s a highly motivating factor for them. Pre-smart, an engineer’s job was to install or maintain an electric or gas meter, with minimal interaction with the customer. Now, technicians have become more skilled technically, have far, far more interactions with customers, and offer a completely different experience,” he adds.

The bigger picture

Smart meters are a vital step towards a much bigger change: a more energy efficient grid that’s fit for the future. But greener production and reduced consumption of energy will only flourish if consumers are onboard. In the meantime, therefore, utility companies like E.ON help transform the energy industry by focussing on the customer and turning challenges into opportunity.

“This national Smart Metering Implementation Programme (SMIP) is a fundamental and major step change in the digital transformation of the electricity ecosystem and a stepping stone in the UK’s energy transformation,” according to Andrew Millerd, Director at Baringa Partners who have supported E.ON on their transformational journey. He goes on: “We’ve helped E.ON get more control and confidence in their deployment of smart meters.”

And it’s a market that’s changing rapidly; in many ways, smart meters are the start of a journey that will take the UK to an unrecognisable future. The scale of change over the next 10 years will be meteoric, as we move towards digitised and decentralised energy. Consumers will play a pivotal role in driving this change, as will new energy technologies and digital enablers. Not to mention the technicians out in the field – the unsung heroes that are changing hearts and minds, one meter at a time.