When I had kids, I was convinced I would be the type of parent that would prepare healthy organic meals. I scoffed at the mere suggestion of frozen chicken nuggets and was confident my angels would have refined taste buds and not be the least bit picky. Of course, this is a laughable fantasy now – as this week I caught myself promising a trip to the ice cream store if my kids would please just eat the slices of plain cheese pizza I had so graciously ordered (and had delivered during the AFC championship, which was quite the undertaking!). With dramatic sighs and commiserating side glances, they managed to finish their meager beige meals and then ran toward the car. Admittedly, I felt a slight dopamine rush (I won!) but also begrudgingly realized our evening of questionable nutrition choices had just begun. Nonetheless, I am a woman of my word, and we headed off toward the neighborhood ice cream joint – along with, it seemed, every other family in the area.
Standing in a line of 10+ families waiting to indulge in a myriad of ice cream selections managed by three teenage scoopers, I began to realize this endeavor would not be quick. Upon a quick count, there were over two dozen flavors of ice cream and more than six different cone options. Wishing in that moment I had just elected McDonald’s soft serve, I instead started peppering my children with questions (after all, I could NOT be the mom who got up to that counter unprepared!). But, because no good deed goes unpunished, when it was our turn, the kids had questions. Was this vanilla “real” vanilla or too sweet? Was the middle cone as crunchy as the cone on the left? Why did only the chocolate cone have sprinkles? What was the difference between chocolate s’mores and fudge marshmallow? So, I – like every parent in that line – watched as my kids taste-tested (what seemed like) every flavor and ultimately paid $21 for two cones. #blessed
Sitting down, I wondered why we do this. I mean sure, ice cream is awesome, but why not just go to places with only chocolate or vanilla? And yet, this egregious-number-of-choices ice cream parlor was as packed as its pints. Kids – just like adults – like choices and selection. In fact, my kids told me this place was their favorite because (contrary to parent sentiment) all the choices made it feel special; they got to design “custom” ice cream in a place catering to them. After the resulting sugar highs waned off enough for sleep, the professional hazard of making comparisons to the energy industry set in. While outwardly ice cream and electricity rates could not be more different, the processes – including the power of customer choice (pun!) – share significant similarities. After all – just as the neighborhood ice cream parlor does more business by providing its customers with more choices and control, so too do utilities benefit from customers who feel educated and empowered about their rate choices.
Ice cream parlors and utilities both offer an abundance of options. Just like (seemingly) endless ice cream flavors can be overwhelming, so too can rate plans – including fixed, variable, time-of-use, and others. Perhaps utilities could benefit from approaching the ever-changing rate landscape like a neighborhood ice cream parlor by appealing to personal preferences. Just like kids who have favorite flavors, dietary restrictions, and changing moods, so too do electric customers who have varying consumption patterns, budget constraints, and environmental concerns. As the energy landscape becomes more and more complex with the availability of distributed energy resources and time varying rates, the next logical step is helping customers understand the implications of all the choices available to them.
Fortunately, utilities offer a level of sophistication beyond that of high school scoopers – and, with the help of GridX, can provide their customers with a fully customized rate experience. GridX Explore, for instance, offers personalized energy options by helping customers virtually bundle clean energy options (e.g., electric vehicles, solar, storage, etc.) and receive real-time cost and usage insights from their utility. By providing this information, utilities accelerate engagement by empowering customers to make the best rate decision based on their individual household-level needs rather than only providing class-based generalized rate assumptions (the equivalent of chocolate-and-vanilla). Just like my kids refused to try an unfamiliar ice cream flavor without a taste test, so too are utility customers resistant to sign up for rates that might seem too risky. And yet – if a teenager can calmly explain the differences between sherbet and sorbet to a seven-year-old, so too can utilities increase customer engagement by simplifying energy industry jargon, tiered pricing, and contractual terms.
While the parallels may seem attenuated, I think the energy industry will always benefit from taking a good look at stellar customer service. Just like parents will drive and spend money for a customized ice cream cone, so too will electric customers engage with their utilities when they feel in control of their energy usage and costs.