Legal, environmental and commercial factors have meant that a once-monopolistic utilities industry has experienced significant shifts in focus in recent years. Increased market competition has proved challenging for utilities – so much so that it has been widely referenced that the sector must adopt a more transparent, scalable and customer-centric slant if it is to improve customer loyalty.
In the same vein (and slightly ahead of utilities), the telecoms sector has had to demonstrate a similarly customer-centric approach by responding to recent surges in consumer data usage – offering a value-added service that is appropriately measurable and scalable for users. It’s fair to say that Communications Service Providers (CSPs) are still learning as they go, but the availability of sophisticated Business Support Systems (BSS) has made it easier for telecoms to be agile in their provisioning; able to bill and manage customers across the spectrum of services they use. As such, the utilities sector could do well by learning from the blueprint that telecoms has laid down before it. Of course, there’s no perfect formula, but borrowing concepts and technologies can enable an appropriately scalable and customer-centric focus.
This comes after a distinct period in telecoms history in which the concept and implementation of convergent billing topped the agenda. As customers branched out from an initial use of landlines, to mobile, digital TV and internet, CSPs looked to consolidate charges onto a single bill and provide a unified experience. Through advanced customer-centric BSS, telecoms has the ability to gather real-time data on usage patterns from all of these sources, enabling a management philosophy that plugs directly into what the customer is doing and plotting this against pre-agreed Service Level Agreements (SLAs).
The advent of smart metering has been touted as the utilities sector’s ace up its sleeve for several years now, although installing 48 million (and rising) devices in homes and businesses across the UK will be an incredibly time consuming and costly exercise. It is in the provisioning, billing and management of the smart meter, however, that utilities can look to the telecoms industry for a cost-efficient, revenue-generating model in the billing of consolidated services. Significantly, the technology and software that CSPs have adopted to accurately bill their customers can be similarly applied to utilities. By sitting inside the utilities smart grid, the same measures can be taken to gain usage information relating to water, gas and electric – feeding this into the billing platform for accurate rating based on value, volume and duration across the converged services. CSPs can also assist utilities to deal with the multitude of traffic that will be passing through the smart grid.
The shift toward smart metering will require utilities to adopt a new, more transparent approach to customer-service. Rather than approaching customers as ‘end points’, they will need to be able to engage in a dialogue that allows customers to know exactly what they have used and when. The telecoms industry has stolen a march in the skill of treating customers as individuals, through the provision of tailored pricing tariffs that cater to a variety of usage patterns. By better understanding the billing developments that have gone previously in the telecoms market, utilities will be better-equipped to offer a scalable approach which puts the customer and their experience at front-of-mind.