Despite a recent appeal by utilities providers wanting an extension on this cut-off date, the government last week upheld its ruling and affirmed that the existing 2020 deadline will stand.
For those who may not be familiar, a smart meter is a utilities device that can digitally send gas and electric readings to a supplier. The benefits of this are two-fold: more precise long-term revenue projections for suppliers, and better cost control for customers.
But with the benefits for both supplier and customer clear to see, why has there been such resistance to the 2020 target amongst utilities providers? The answer lies in the sheer scale of the operation at hand. To give some context to this, it is estimated that 53 million meters will need to be installed in 30 UK million homes and small businesses—this alone will require a combined task force of +10,000 engineers. Add to this the fact that offering and installing a smart meter can necessitate a high degree of logistical planning for each customer, and the 2020 deadline suddenly seems like a very tall order.
What are the challenges?
One of the biggest issues that smart meter suppliers encounter relates to keeping track of job status and knowing where engineers are located at any one time so that customers can be accurately informed and updated on arrival times. In addition, and because customers are not paying for their new smart meter–and tend to be less excited about its installation than if it were a new flat screen TV, for instance—there is less incentive for customers to keep their appointments, which means a high instance of cancellations and customer no-shows.
So with these obstacles in mind, and the UK government standing firm on its insistence that the 2020 deadline will not be pushed back, what can utilities providers do to make sure that they comply with the smart meter mandate?
1. Optimise customer communication
By adopting and expanding the use of different technology such as text, email, or introducing consumers cloud-based mobile apps, service suppliers enable the customer to see their appointment time and engineer’s location effortlessly. Sending the customer a text with their appointment time, and giving the customer the ability to reply a quick ‘yes’ to confirm the appointment, leads to faster appointment scheduling and clearer visibility between the provider and customer. Recent research found that while customer communication preferences vary from one country to the next, service suppliers across the globe struggle to understand and meet these expectations.
Embracing technology, whether it’s through text, social media, or Interactive Voice Recognition during smart meter deployment can guarantee that engineers and customers have optimum communication, consequently improving customer service and experience.
2. Real-time tracking and route optimisation
Offering the customer an engineer tracking tool is a proven way to increase the likelihood of a customer waiting in if an engineer is behind schedule. If an engineer is late, the customer is able to log onto the tracking app and see the engineer’s location—similar to tracking your Uber drive’s progress—rather than waiting in the dark.
In addition, utility providers can adopt route optimisation tools that can provide the engineer with the fastest route to the job (based on real-time traffic) and can assign the engineers to jobs in their local region. By doing this, providers can optimise the engineers’ route and job schedule, allowing engineers to arrive onsite quickly and reduce the time spent travelling.
3. Act smarter: match skills and knowledge with the job at hand
Deploying the best engineer for the job will not only ensure that the job is done quickly and efficiently, but it will also improve customer service. If an engineer has experience in installing smart meters in blocks of flats, for example, they will become accustomed to that specific job and will become faster —and better—at it.
Providers can also utilise machine learning technology to automatically assign engineers to specific jobs, based on their previous experience, training, and expertise. Sending the engineers with the right skills set to specific jobs will make sure that customers are receiving a first-time-fix, so engineers do not have to revisit a job to complete it.
Utilities companies that adopt all—or at least some—of the above advice are sure to set themselves in better stead to meet the 4-year deadline by ensuring that installation appointments are not only booked more quickly, but also executed more efficiently. And, perhaps most importantly, these measures will also support suppliers in delivering optimum customer experiences—something that will feed strong customer retention rates well beyond 2020.
On the other hand, suppliers that fail to adopt and implement new strategies aimed at optimising their smart metering installation programmes can expect to face severe economic penalties if the all-important cut-off deadline is missed. A number of major utilities providers in the UK have already been dealt significant six-figure corporate fines for delays relating to the smart meter rollout.
While the closing timeframe now set in stone for 2020 seems distant, utilities should avoid inevitable stress along the way and enact a pain-free plan to comply.