January 14, 2015

Year in Review: iFactor Identifies Four Utility Customer Communication Trends of 2014

TEMPE, Arizona (January 14, 2015) – Today, utility customer communication solution provider iFactor looks back at 2014 and identifies trends and advancements that utilities have made toward improving customer communications. In 2014, utilities had more engaged customers, offered more self-service tools, provided more transparency into their operations, and provided information to more new audiences than ever before.
As a leading provider of customer communication solutions for the utility sector, iFactor had a front row seat for the happenings. “It’s exciting to see the growth in utility-customer engagement,” said Shazir Khan, President and CEO, iFactor. “Both utilities and their customers have taken on a greater role in information sharing over the last year. We believe that the growth in self-service tools and utility transparency will continue to help improve customer satisfaction for utilities.”
The Customer Communication Trends of 2014 are:

1) Customers were more engaged than ever with their utilities.

  • In 2014, utilities across the country employed iFactor Mobile™ apps to help communicate and engage with customers. Mobile app usage for iFactor clients was at an all-time high, with more than 820,000 active users and 3.3 million mobile app sessions across the 13 iFactor Mobile apps currently deployed.
  • Use of automated alerts by utilities and their customers surged, as utilities launched programs to keep customers informed about everything from power outages to energy usage to monthly utility bills. Nearly 30 utilities representing over 40 million meters across North America utilized iFactor’s Notifi® proactive alert and preference management system in 2014. The system sent out more than 42.5 million messages, including 21 million personalized email messages and 21.5 million text messages. The growth of text messaging communications between utilities and their customers rose sharply in 2014, representing a 48 percent increase over 2013.
  • Customers actively sought information during storms using more than 35 Storm Center™ outage maps developed by iFactor. These outage maps received more than 13 million views over the year. Customers also displayed a strong preference for mobile options, especially during storm events, when up to 80 percent of all visits to the outage maps were from mobile devices.

2) Utilities expanded the self-service tools available to customers.

  • According to Chartwell research, 96 percent of utilities offered an online portal or outage map for viewing outage information in 2014, up from 48 percent just five years ago. In addition, Chartwell found that 12 percent of utilities offered two-way text messaging for customers, allowing them to report outages and/or request information such as balance due or outage updates. According to a study by Booz Allen Hamilton, mobile apps also gained popularity in 2014, with 26 percent of U.S. utilities allowing customers to self-serve using mobile apps.
  • Utilities expanded and adapted their self-service options. A West Coast utility began offering customers access to individual outage alerts, letting customers sign-up to receive status updates about a specific outage displayed on the utility’s outage map without signing up to receive alerts for their utility account.
  • Utilities also added new features to existing self-service tools. For example, one utility operating in the Northeast added photo reporting to their mobile app, allowing customers to be more involved in the damage assessment phase of the restoration process by providing photos of damage they witnessed along with an outage report. Other utilities added the ability for customers to use two-way text messaging keywords to request the balance for their account and pay their bill.

3) Utilities offered customers more transparent information about power outages and gas leaks.

  • Utilities in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic areas added crew status information to their outage maps and text message alerts, offering customers more visibility into the repair process.
  • A New York utility added unprecedented detail to its outage maps in 2014, allowing customers to see outages at the premise-level. The same utility also rolled out a gas leak map, providing customers a source for information on leaks that are being monitored and those scheduled for repair by the utility.
  • A utility in Chicago debuted a map designed to publicly share information on improvements being made to the grid, including items such as smart switches, reliability improvements, lightning protection and tree trimming.

4) Utilities responded to requests for outage information from new audiences.

  • Utilities operating in New Jersey and elsewhere across the East Coast responded to demands for more information from local stakeholders by offering municipal-level data on their outage maps and through their alert systems. This information included area-specific estimated restoration times and details such as the number of circuits, substations and utility poles affected by outages in each municipality.
  • Responding to a challenge set forth by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to come up with ways to improve disaster response and recovery efforts, utilities from across the country announced their intent to publish outage data in a standard format for use by first responders, public health officials, utility operations, and mutual assistance crews.

About iFactor

iFactor develops software products and delivers complete communication solutions for the utility sector, delivering information to more than 150 million people in North America through deployments at more than 45 utilities. iFactor products and solutions enable utilities to leverage connected technologies such as the web, mobile web, and smart phones to interact with their customers. Visit www.ifactorconsulting.com/about-us/ for more information.