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2 JANUARY 2014

Intelligent Utility

Utility2Utility: PSEG

Public Service Electric and Gas Company (PSE&G) is one of the largest combined electric and gas companies in the United States and is also New Jersey's oldest and largest publicly owned utility. They currently serve nearly three quarters of New Jersey's population in a service area consisting of a 2,600-square-mile diagonal corridor across the state. PSE&G is the largest provider of gas and electric service, servicing 1.8 million gas customers and 2.2 million electric customers in more than 300 urban, suburban and rural communities, including New Jersey's six largest cities. 


For this issue of utility2utility, we spoke with Tracy Kirk, manager of customer technology at PSE&G, about planning for customer mobility.


Intelligent Utility: How is PSE&G engaging customers via mobile? 


Kirk: Our society is increasingly addicted to being connected. People are used to performing the tasks of everyday life while on the go. Recognizing these shifts, PSE&G has been engaging and serving mobile customers through social media, by allowing people to opt in to texting and email subscriptions, and by making it easy to do business with us by improving the usability of our website for those accessing it from a smart phone. The trend toward mobile is also fueling strategies at PSE&G to improve preference management, since customers have so many more points of contact now than a home number and mailing address.


Intelligent Utility: How important are mobile customers in the grand scheme of your utility's customer service?  


Kirk: We now carry our lives in our pockets. Mobile devices give utilities the chance to overcome their history of being an invisible service provider--one customers only think about when they get their bill or when their lights don’t come on. Utilities have so many more opportunities to touch a customer than when they were restricted to traditional channels. Provide a customer with a proactive alert on their phone about their bill, or a tweet about a new energy-saving tip, and become their ally.  Mobility initiatives also help utilities walk the fine line between the need to serve all customer demographics and the need to keep costs reasonable. The rapidly growing use of mobile devices across all customer segments means that mobile is an opportunity to meet customer needs and expectations while helping them to self-serve.


And of course the mobile customer has emerged as a powerful force in emergency communications. During Superstorm Sandy, customers, first responders, government officials, and our own employees relied heavily on mobile technologies to share information and news from anywhere. Displaced families depended on mobile to stay connected and manage from day to day. Meeting customers and stakeholders in the mobile space built a stronger partnership, a stronger community, than could have been accomplished previously. You’re also empowering people who don’t want to feel like victims.


Intelligent Utility: What's new and exciting in the area of mobile engagement? 


Kirk: What’s most exciting to me about mobile engagement is its grass-roots heart. Neighborhoods use social media to stay connected during storms.  College kids have approached us with apps they built in their spare time. Despite the rapidity with which the tools change, planning for the mobile customer and the mobile workforce has become foundational to our technology roadmaps.  We are focused on delivering customers a fast and streamlined mobile experience, and we’re working closely with our partner Usablenet to make our mobile experience easier and more intuitive for our customers to accomplish exactly what they want to as quickly as possible.


Intelligent Utility: So, how are you tying mobile engagement to other aspects of the business outside of customer service? 


Kirk: Social media has become a cornerstone of our community building and reputation management strategy, and mobility is the key to the immediacy of social engagement. We also have a robust competitive services arm, which is an important revenue stream. Retail marketing and energy efficiency programs are likely areas for expansion. A mobile-friendly version of PSE&G’s outage map is a few months away. Outage maps are used not only by customers but also by the media and government officials; providing access to timely and transparent information is crucial to a utility’s credibility and trustworthiness. 


Intelligent Utility: What was the impetus for PSEG investing in mobile technology and other options for tech-savvy customers? 


Kirk: Mobility is an extension of the digital transformation. It was only a few years ago that we had to make a case for web self-service, or explain why online outage maps were important to people who had no power. Now people don’t even wait to get to the office or boot up their laptop to get information or take action. Outage communications may be the ‘ah-ha’ moment when the broad range of stakeholders ‘gets it’, but mobility is the glue that ties our customer-facing initiatives together.


Intelligent Utility: What advice would you give other utilities that don't see the value in mobile technology or high-level tech options to connect with consumers? 


Kirk: This genie is not going back in the bottle. If you don’t want customers to be your new stranded assets you need to make this part of your plan.  


Read the article at Intelligent Utility, here.