Key themes from the MRS Utilities conference 2019
The Trinity McQueen team got the opportunity to showcase and learn all about what is happening in the utilities sector this week! We attended the MRS Utilities Conference that took place at Radisson Blu Edwardian and found some really interesting and engaging topics being discussed. As things tend to go in these events, we spotted three recurring themes throughout the day…
Customers are (generally) disengaged with utilities (shock horror!)
Everyone nodded in agreement whenever someone pointed out that anyone in attendance at the utilities conference probably wasn’t a normal utilities customer, and that generally, customers are passive when it comes to energy and water.
The challenge lies in the fact that the market is changing, becoming more distributed, and in some cases, even a community. As we move towards becoming a carbon neutral country by 2050, and the energy market goes through some of its biggest challenges and changes, customers will need to have a stronger say in how they get and pay for energy.
Solutions focus on empowering customers; by providing them with relevant information, we can not only engage them in the topic, but use them to help energy and water providers make important decisions. This was summed up in a talk by United Utilities, who declared ‘Tell me and I may forget, show me and I may remember, but involve me and I will understand’ – well said, this shows the importance of bringing customers in when you want mutual engagement.
Another recurrent solution was using behavioural science to help ‘nudge’ customers into making changes. The methods tested included everything from how we appeal to a customers’ better nature about saving water and energy, to the best methods for prompting customers to explore their energy tariffs and switch to save money.
Flexibility will increasingly reign (it’s already starting…)
In the energy sector, supply and demand is changing. We’ve moved away from a ‘Big Six’, and are even exploring options such as peer-to-peer energy transfers. From a demand perspective, recent developments such as electric vehicles (EVs) and the continued growth in technology and smart tech in the home, means our demand patterns for energy are changing too.
EV charging was in fact a big talking point – most users come home from work and simply plug their car in to charge – but this coincides with what is already the biggest peak demand time for energy. Whilst a range of smart EV charging solutions were explored, the key outcome was always flexibility – there will never be a single solution that suits all customers - we need to provide choice.
Attitude doesn’t meet behaviour
Consumer attitudes are changing – plastics and meat free alternatives are just two examples where changing attitudes have more recently led to changes in behaviour as well. But in the energy market, whereas environmental concern is positive, there is still an attitude-behavior gap, and we might not yet have reached the tipping point where this attitude translates into meaningful behaviour change. However, recent weather events may have started to change this – people can now see the impact of climate change in their day-to-day (increasingly hot summers or freak weather patterns for example).
In a couple of talks, we explored how we can get customers to change their behaviour. We found a general theme - “what’s in it for me?”. This could be as simple as tweaking a behaviour change message to be more relevant for that customer, but in a number of cases, customers expect heavy monetary incentives to change behaviour.
However, at the end of the day, Welsh Water discussed how they have made tracks to improve their favourability with customers as a way to drive trust. Informing customers about a number of topics and increasing their familiarity with what they do in the community lead to customers happily making decisions that benefited others, rather than themselves, without the need for reward, or asking “what’s in it for me?”. In fact, in the example discussed, customers were even willing to pay more on their water bills if the money was used for alternative community benefits.
All in all it was a great day with lots of engagement and interesting topics discussed – here’s to next year!
Joe Yeadon - Research Manager