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What is the new ROE?

There's a new ROE in the electric utility field.

We all know about "return on equity." Next week, at the 2012 AGA/EEI Customer Service Conference & Exposition in Fort Worth, Texas, speaker Roy Barnes, of Blue Space Consulting, will talk about a different, customer-focused ROE -- "return on experience."

The business landscape for utilities is shifting rapidly. Many have called it an evolutionary shift. From price pressure and the need to develop new revenue sources to managing growing customer expectations or the threats of disintermediation, it's imperative that utilities create customer relationships that are partnership-focused.

Barnes will discuss with conference attendees the need for what he describes as a clear Customer Experience Intent, and how it is the foundation that improves every customer touch point. He will also explain how to integrate the human factor in enabling and promoting the customer experience. And he will define the new ROE.

The need for good customer segmentation has been discussed in this column, and at conferences across the country, for a couple of years now. Customer types have varied, depending upon the model being discussed and the utility's objectives in initiating segmentation projects. Barnes, too, will be discussing the need to segment experience by customer types and customer values, within the context of building the quality and depth of the utility customer's experience with the utility.

Other general sessions on the agenda include Creating Do It Yourself Customers, The Customer is Always Smart -- And Getting Smarter!, The Generational Imperative and The State of Utility Customer Interactions 2012, dozens of breakout sessions in a number of different utility topic areas, as well as some open forums for utility attendees only. The full agenda can be downloaded here.

Peter Honebein of Customer Performance Group, whose work has been featured in Intelligent Utility magazine, will be delivering a presentation about viewing utility customers in a different light, as co-creators of the value offered by the smart grid and other technologies. What are the benefits associated with customer co-creation of value? How do the principles of "proactive", "mutually beneficial" and "collaborative" guide customer experiences?

I have been writing about the changing customer experience for almost four years now: its ups and downs, examples of progressive utility-customer relationships and examples of those that still need some work. The common thread in all of those pieces has been that the utility-customer relationship of the past needs to stay in the past. The utility industry has entered the era of the "always connected, always on" consumer, who is now comparing his utility experience to the way he engages with other providers, and the choices he is provided.

We all know it is no longer enough to provide customers with a monthly bill by mail or by e-mail. But changing the consumer construct doesn't have a cookie-cutter, out-of-the-box, one-size-fits-all solution, either.

I will be attending next week's conference, and holding discussions with both utility and vendor attendees around the "New Utility Customer Service Experience." In coming weeks, I will be devoting this Friday column to their thoughts.

What works? What doesn't? And how does a utility make the appropriate shift?


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