iFactor Identifies Developing Trends in Utility Communications

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Utility companies improved communications and enhanced the customer experience in 2015

iFactor, the leading developer of utility communication solutions, today announced its selections for developing trends in utility communications. In 2015, utilities found new tools for sharing information with community stakeholders, expanded communications for residential customers, and revised user interfaces to improve customer experience.

As a provider of customer communication solutions to more than 45 utility clients including six of the ten largest utilities in North America, iFactor has unique insight into happenings in the utility communication space. “It’s wonderful to see the focus on communications and user experience from the utilities,” said Shazir Khan, President and CEO, iFactor. “We’ve seen this space continue to grow and expect one day that dealing with your utility company will be comparable to the user experience you receive from other vendors such as financial institutions and online shopping giants.”

The Utility Communication Trends of 2015 are:

Utilities employed new tools for keeping stakeholders informed during outages

  • Responding to requests from the White House and community partners, utilities began publishing outage data in a standardized format designed to make the data easy for stakeholders to capture and use to enhance decision making and situation awareness during outages. Using the iFactor iShare™ Outage Data Publisher, one of the largest investor-owned utilities headquartered in the South began publishing standardized data for regional partners, starting with a local emergency management group which plans to use the data within its own outage applications.
  • Several utilities undertook projects to create secure interfaces for collaborating with municipalities. Through secure platforms such as the iFactor Municipal Portal solution, these utilities can share information and collaborate with municipalities using outage maps, critical infrastructure and accounts affected lists, and restoration priority lists.
  • Utilities in New Jersey completed a joint project that created a first-of-its-kind statewide outage map. The map offers a secure location for the utilities to provide critical information about power outages to the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities and other community stakeholders.
  • Utilities also expanded tools for viewing outage restoration for internal utility stakeholders. Two utilities in the East created work order maps for Customer Service Representatives (CSRs). These maps allow CSRs more visibility into restorations in a visual format that allows them to easily locate outages at or near a customer’s business or residence.

Utilities expanded self-service tools and notification programs for residential customers

  • Utilities made paying bills even easier with new solutions such as pay-by-text options that allow customers to simply text “PAY” to initiate a payment from a payment type already on file with the utility. One utility in New York became an early adopter of the tool when they launched the feature in early 2015 in conjunction with their iFactor Notifi® alert system.
  • Utilities began expanding their customer notifications systems to include information about items such as billing and payments, rate changes, and energy usage. One utility added temperature alerts for rate changes, service request confirmations and reminders, and status updates for energy assistance pledges, which dramatically decreased calls to the call center regarding assistance pledges.
  • One utility with an iFactor Mobile™ app enhanced their mobile application with a photo reporting tool, allowing customers to add pictures of damage when reporting an issue. The tools is expected to help improve the utility’s planning for restoration efforts by providing additional information in advance of their crews’ arrival.

Utilities focused on user interfaces and improving the customer experience

  • A number of utilities updated their outage maps to provide a better user experience for customers. One Philadelphia utility became the first utility to launch iFactor’s newest Storm Center map interface that puts design for mobile devices at the forefront, addressing the fact that most customers (up to 80%) view outage maps on their mobile devices during outage events.
  • Utilities also upped their game with new mobile app releases. One Vermont utility won the 2015 Expanding Excellence Award for Best Mobility Implementation at CS Week for their iFactor mobile app which offers customers a complete self-service experience, including access to real-time energy usage and control of smart devices for customers with smart meters.
  • While outage portals have become ubiquitous, with 98% of utilities having an online outage map according to Chartwell, some utilities added custom layers to their outage maps to provide more information than just outage status. One Chicago utility even used their map to show where they had assistance vans giving out chicken and pizza to customers experiencing outages.

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 smartphones to interact with their customers. Visit http://www.ifactorinc.com for more information.

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Alison Copeland
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