Smart home technology is on the rise. In the last two years the number of households with smart speakers has grown by 135%. Between those, robot vacuums, video doorbells and more, there is no shortage of technology claiming to make our lives easier. Why is this important to know? Well, your energy utility customers are purchasing smart home devices and, in doing so, developing relationships with other technology companies rather than your energy utility.
In Questline’s Plugged In webinar, “Smart Home Technology and Your Customers,” expert speakers from Questline, GreenMarbles and ibex navigated the smart home landscape by sharing insights into why customers are interested in these gadgets and how your energy utility can guide them on their purchasing journey.
Customer relationships matter in smart home technology adoption
Alexandra Greenberg, Content Strategist for Questline, explained how the growth of smart home technology presents numerous relationship-building opportunities for your energy utility. More than 60 million Americans now own at least one smart home device. As the technology continues to advance, it is all the more reason for your energy utility to create a trustworthy relationship with customers to be part of these buying experiences.
According to Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC) research, 42% of consumers said the involvement or endorsement of their utility would influence their adoption of new technologies. Without a relationship between your energy utility and its customers, they will look elsewhere for resources and information. For example, Google Nest provides monthly eNewsletters that include efficiency and safety advice and personalized reports on customers’ energy usage. Greenberg said, “You want your customers to look to you for this information, not anyone else.”
Content marketing allows your energy utility to share this information and build customer relationships with articles, infographics, videos and more. For energy utility customers, these solutions are valuable when making purchasing decisions. Content marketing can also help drive customers to your energy utility’s marketplaces. What’s important, Greenberg points out, is to ensure the content you share doesn’t sell to customers, but educates them with valuable information and answers their questions.
How utilities can communicate smarter around energy technology
Although smart home technology may be on the rise, many customers still don’t know exactly what smart home devices are. David Cathey, SVP of the Utility Division for GreenMarbles, explained that “A smart device is a device that has purpose-drive communication capabilities.” He noted that many people have smart devices, but do not have smart homes. This is because the devices they own aren’t communicating with each other. Energy utilities need to be able to assist customers in purchasing devices that speak to each other and create packages for them that meet their customers’ needs.
Traditionally, energy utilities stop at the meter when helping customers, Cathey said, but this is changing with the future of smart tech. “Moving beyond the meter with experiences around energy, automation, security and wellness is necessary to become a partner to customers and make their lives easier,” he said.
Energy utilities need to not only market smart tech devices but fulfill the customer service gaps that exist within the industry. Customers want to know that someone is there to help answer their questions or help them install their smart tech devices. In doing so, customers will trust their energy utility and will return for future buying experiences.
Cathey noted that “Security is the primary purchase motivator for smart home technology.” Once customers enter the market through this motivation, they are likely to continue adding devices to their home and will look to your energy utility for resources.
Age demographics are also very important when it comes to smart home technology. Often, it is thought that the younger generations are most interested in the technology, but those aged 65 and older are very interested as well. Smart home technology enables these customers to stay safe, secure and save money. As these individuals age and reach the point where they may consider moving into senior housing, smart technology could help them reconsider. Cathey said that customers who invest in smart home technology stay in their homes nearly two years longer than those who don’t. In other words, they also stay on as your energy utility’s customer for longer.
Bringing smart tech home with effective marketplace sales
Mark Wilkinson, SVP of Products for ibex, joined the conversation to discuss the impact of energy utility marketplaces. “It’s no longer a question of whether or not customers have embraced smart home technology or will they buy it; they are buying it,” he said. “Now the question is, how can we help our consumers actually get the most value out of this technology? The time has come for utilities to embrace marketplaces.”
Wilkinson noted that in today’s digital age, there is no reason not to have a marketplace. He pointed to a Chartwell study that found “57% of customers use or have interest in marketplaces from their utilities.” Those numbers further increase when it comes to the Millennial or Gen Z populations, digitally inclined customers who are already likely to buy more products and services online. Partly due to the coronavirus pandemic, Wilkinson said now “everyone is an ecommerce shopper” and energy utilities need to embrace this.
When it comes to energy utility marketplaces, design matters. When competing with the likes of Amazon, Walmart or Best Buy, energy utilities need to present their marketplaces as the go-to resource for customers looking to purchase smart home tech. Wilkinson shared the key elements to think through when it comes to designing a marketplace including making them:
When considering what items to include on the marketplace, it’s important to have the right-sized catalog. Customers are typically interested in a few key areas when looking for smart tech products to buy:
A marketplace site should be a destination that customers want to come back to. Utilities can do this by offering comparison lists, educational libraries or video tutorials for installing smart home devices. In addition, personalize their experience on the marketplace by understanding where they live, keeping track of their purchases and how they click-through the site. Customers aren’t demanding personalization, but they are expecting it, Wilkinson said.
Smart technology is coming home for energy utility customers
Smart home technology is changing the way customers interact with their energy utility. Keeping up with these changes and offering the advice and solutions your customers need can create lasting relationships. Amazon and Google aren’t going anywhere, but now is the time for energy utilities to step up in the space and become the go-to resource for customers when it comes to smart home technology.