Quantified Home: Taking a Big Data Approach to Customer Experience
energycioinsights

Quantified Home: Taking a Big Data Approach to Customer Experience

By Scott Burns, Head of Innovation & Customer Experience at Reliant, an NRG Company

Scott Burns, Head of Innovation & Customer Experience at Reliant, an NRG Company

At Reliant, we strive to provide our customers with an unmatched experience by keeping them powered, secured and connected at home, at work, and on the go. We do that by looking for opportunities to provide more value to our customers.

Prior to the installation of smart meters across Texas, retail electricity providers received only one meter reading a month. Customers had little information about their current electricity usage until they received their monthly bill, which meant little insight on how their activities and appliances affected their cost.

"Real-time tracking helps me see the impact of my daily activities, and over time I can identify patterns."

Today, Reliant customers are armed with deeper views of their home electricity usage – even receiving alerts that their home systems may be running inefficiently or potentially failing. In 2009, smart meters started to be deployed across the state of Texas, providing meter reads every 15 minutes–a total of 96 times per day. This allowed retail electricity providers far greater access to data on their customers’ electricity usage.

At Reliant, we saw the potential of this quantum increase in data, and we jumped on it as a major opportunity to provide a premium customer experience by turning the data into useful information for consumers. Most importantly, it gave us a chance to build greater trust with our customers. With widespread smart meter adoption, we can now leverage this technology to create cutting-edge products and solutions for a wide variety of customer segments.

As a data junkie and fan of fitness trackers myself, I can’t help but see many parallels between health data and energy data. Real-time tracking helps me see the impact of my daily activities, and over time I can identify patterns. I got smarter about my health and habits by realizing it’s much easier to control something if you can measure it. That same principle easily applies to how we use energy in our homes. If you’re able to track it, you can pinpoint the items and activities in your home that draw electricity, and detect patterns and trends across longer blocks of time. That lets you adjust your behavior and realize potential savings. At Reliant, it’s our role to package that data in a way that is both meaningful and engaging for our customers.

Adoption

With smart energy as the new standard, and through our meter management data systems, Reliant can use the abundant smart meter data to develop products and services that empower our customers. For example, we created an online portal where customers could review not only their usage rates, but also learn how to implement easy energy-saving changes in their home. While the portal was in development, we created an interim email newsletter containing this information. We set reasonable expectations, acknowledging the challenge of communicating compelling energy usage information to consumers in an easy-to-understand format. To our surprise, the email “open” rate far surpassed our initial projections, and to this day the email newsletter is one of the most popular services we provide and continues to rank very high in customer engagement. The key to the email newsletter’s success is that it provides previously unavailable usage and cost information specific to that customer’s home in a way that is easy for them to digest.

With greater insight into how consumers use electricity, we then set out to create new home energy tools. Most recently, we developed sophisticated algorithms to recognize anomalies in the home’s energy usage. This allows us to alert customers to changes in the home’s energy and HVAC usage. We can then send an automatic notice to the customer informing them something may be malfunctioning in their home.

Much like the “quantified self” trend, or knowledge through self-tracking, we added in a layer of friendly competition. Just as people will compete for steps taken or calories burned, one of our most powerful data sets allows a customer to compare their home’s energy usage to both similar homes and energy-efficient homes in their area. Without such a point of reference, customers would simply have to guess whether their usage is high, low or the norm. But, through rigorous data application, the neighborhood average provides our customers with the perfect benchmark for self-assessment and allows them to adjust accordingly – especially if they want to keep up (or down, as it were) with the Joneses.

Beyond providing energy usage information and advice to manage it, we’ve also used what we’ve learned to develop new electricity plans and services. Prior to smart meters, we offered standard term plans with one price per kilowatt-hour, and month-to-month plans with similar pricing. The new data, however, allows us to customize beyond “one size fits all” plans with incentives that include free weekends, different pricing for weekends vs. weekdays, flat monthly billing and more. We also launched a demand response program called “Degrees of Difference” where customers are prompted via text to reduce usage during peak times. While this helps reduce demand on the power grid at peak times, customers are also paid for each kilowatt-hour they save. With permission, the program can also talk directly to a customer’s smart thermostat and do the work for them. All of these programs are meant to empower the customer to choose and manage their energy experience in whichever way they want.

Results

Big data benefits Reliant’s customers, the communities where we live and work and our own customer service teams in many ways. The smart meter transition and the ability to acquire, apply and analyze data set a new standard which enables energy providers to give customers the tools and guidance they need to make smart energy choices.

As we’ve introduced new ways of sharing insights with our customers, their feedback has helped shape the way we add value. We work constantly to delight them with personalized, easy to use offerings, and we will continue to look for ways we can power, secure and connect to ensure each moment is better for our customers.

Above all, big data has enabled Reliant to build strong relationships with our customers. Taking a big data approach to the comprehensive customer experience combined with premier customer service has helped build Reliant’s reputation as an innovator in the energy category. 

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