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May 31, 2018
Small business segment big on value opportunities
By: Michael Dary

Who could blame small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) if they feel a bit like the forgotten customer segment?

After all, most energy providers lump SMBs with commercial and industrial customers (typically much larger and with extensive resources devoted to energy management) or with residential consumers (with needs and expectations quite different from businesses of any size). Not surprisingly, Accenture’s New Energy Consumer study has revealed that only 35 percent of SMBs believe they’re getting a personalized experience from their energy provider.

Add it up and it becomes clear that SMBs represent a largely untapped customer segment. That needs to change, and I’ll give you three reasons.

First, together with C&I customers, SMBs make up 60 to 70 percent of the energy load and commodity revenue. Second, compared to the average homeowner, businesses—even small enterprises—spend much more on energy on a per-customer basis. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, SMBs have a focus on bottom-line performance that drives their interest in distributed energy resources, innovative rate structures and other beyond-the-meter products and services. They are also more apt to talk about their experiences with those offerings, becoming “net promoters” with their families and in their communities.

Accenture sees significant value trapped within the SMB segment for utilities—and believes one of the keys to unlocking that value is creating and delivering a more comprehensive view of their current and potential energy consumption, savings and offerings.

Companies like FirstFuel are helping support the kind of deep energy analytics and insights necessary to understand SMBs’ specific needs and parameters. With those insights and analytics, it becomes possible to:

  1. Show them the money. Instead of serving up a laundry list of available offers, deliver tailored offers based on an SMB customer’s actual meter and cost data. Show them how much they could save on energy costs—and give them tangible, personalized strategies for realizing those savings.

  2. Make the complex simple. Large C&I customers usually have the resources to understand sophisticated rate plans and implement bespoke energy management programs. With time-starved SMBs, utilities can protectively engage and put those advantages within reach. For example, digital tools can track a customer’s prior year of actual use (aggregated across business locations) to serve up instant visibility to current rate plan, other potential plans and guidance on which will save the most money.

  3. Put energy alerts in their pocket. Although no business celebrates a high energy bill, unusually high costs can be especially painful for an SMB. Give them the ability to establish their own proactive alerts. When SMBs can set the thresholds for notifications, they can stay on top of monthly expenses. Insights into which SMBs are approaching or exceeding their thresholds provide opportunities to reach out proactively to offer guidance and support.

Those represent just a few opportunities for utilities to show small and mid-size businesses that they do, in fact, understand and value them.

Better, more personalized service isn’t just good for these customers—it’s also good for energy retailers.

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