You’ve convinced your utility’s stakeholders of the benefits of advanced meters, and you’re excited to see how the truck roll savings will transform your utility’s operations.
But then you hit a roadblock: your customers are skeptical of advanced meters.
No matter the size of your electric utility, you’ll have a handful of customers who express concerns about advanced meters. Responding to these concerns tactfully is key to a smooth meter upgrade.
Our Systems Solutions Group has years of experience implementing advanced metering infrastructure for public power utilities, including municipal utilities and cooperatives. In this article, we’re sharing their top tips for talking to customers about advanced meters.
Why do some customers complain about advanced meters?
Ever since they were invented, advanced meters have been a target for unfavorable media coverage.
The most publicized concerns are usually related to privacy and health impacts from radio frequency exposure. These arguments can easily be refuted with a few facts. For example, research has shown that RF emissions from advanced meters are lower than Wi-Fi routers and even baby monitors.
So, why do customer concerns persist? According to research by Bruce Schneier, one reason is “people underestimate risks they willingly take and overestimate risks in situations they can’t control.”
Since your utility is making the decision to upgrade meters, customers may view it as a situation they can’t control. Even though the upgrade benefits them, the mere fact that they don’t have a choice leads them to perceive the risk is greater than it is.
For this reason, you’ll want to highlight how advanced meters benefit customers in addition to proving they’re not harmful. If you can show customers that any perceived risk is outweighed by the numerous benefits, you can calm their fears more easily.
Some utilities also choose to allow concerned customers to opt out of advanced meter upgrades. This will come at a high cost to the customer, since you’ll need to send a utility employee to check their meter, but it could satisfy some customers.
3 Tips for Talking with Customers About Advanced Meters
1. Don’t call them smart meters.
Words are powerful. When your customer hears the word “smart meter,” they imagine the meter to be much smarter than it is.
“Smart” conveys the idea that an autonomous robot is monitoring their behavior. This is not true at all, so it’s a good idea to stay from the term when you’re talking with customers.
Again, this goes back to the connection between perceived control and risk. If customers believe their meter can think for itself, they will feel even less control over the situation and perceive an even greater risk.
Interestingly, most unfavorable news coverage uses the term “smart meter.” By simply choosing a different word, you can create distance between these news stories and what your utility is doing.
The phrase “advanced meters” tends to be the best alternative. It’s also a logical word choice since the meters are part of an advanced metering infrastructure.
2. Wait for concerns to come before addressing them
Based on the negative perceptions of advanced meters, you may think it’s best to clear up misconceptions before they arise.
However, in our experience, utilities who try to be proactive about educating customers receive more complaints than those who wait until customers express concerns. People who never would have voiced a problem begin to think they should be worried.
We’ve seen success when utilities simply tell customers they’re doing a meter upgrade. Customers who want to learn more can contact customer service, but this way, you can focus on sharing the benefits of new technology.
Ask your distributor for resources you can give to customers. Door hangers are an easy way to let customers know an employee will be stopping by to switch out their meter. Flyers, brochures and presentations are useful for customers who want information about safety and security.
3. Highlight the benefits to the customer
In all your communications, make sure to share the positive outcomes of having an advanced meter. Explaining benefits will show that you have your customers’ best interest in mind.
Finding benefits to share isn’t hard because advanced meters offer many advantages to customers. You just need to draw attention to them.
Here are a few key messages you can adapt and share with your customers:
- Get your power restored faster: Since advanced meters notify utilities of outages, power can be restored faster during an outage.
- Don’t worry about outages when you leave town: If you’re away from home and your power goes out, your utility can find and fix the issue before you return.
- Keep your utility bill low: When your utility saves money by using advanced meters, you do, too.
- Get rewarded for adjusting your energy usage: Many utilities offer time-of-use discounts if you reduce your power consumption during peak periods. These rates are only possible with advanced meters.
- Be confident about the accuracy of your bill: Automatic meter reading provides more accurate usage data.
- Experience fewer disruptions to power: Advanced meters can notify utility staff of problems before an outage occurs.
- Gain increased privacy: Utility staff can troubleshoot issues remotely and collect billing data without needing to walk through your backyard.
Learn from the experience of your distributor
Implementing a new, advanced metering infrastructure isn’t something you do every day — but it’s what we do.
To ensure a smooth transition, partner with a distributor with the experience and expertise to help you through every step of the process. At Border States, we’re here to help you with technical questions, customer relations and more.
In addition to discovering what’s worked best for other utilities, you can get expert advice for talking to customers in your specific area.