Consumer engagement has always posed a major challenge for global utilities. According to a US survey, a consumer spends an average of 14,198 minutes a year on Facebook, while the time spent on interacting with a utility is just six minutes a year on average. As per the United Kingdom Customer Satisfaction Index Report 2014, the utility industry is at the bottom in the customer satisfaction segment. Gamification, which refers to the convergence of the five digital forces (mobile, social, cloud, analytics and big data), provides a platform for utilities to enhance customer engagement, achieve a higher level of energy efficiency and identify new sources of revenue. American research and IT firm Gartner, Inc. has predicted that more than 50 per cent of organisations managing innovation processes will gamify them by 2015. IDC Energy Insights, meanwhile, expects 60 per cent of progressive worldwide energy retailers to utilise at least one gamified application by 2016.
The four key elements of gamification are goal, experience, reward, and feedback. In a utility’s context, the goal could be to decrease a home’s consumption between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. compared to the average for the same period during the preceding five business days. The element of experience could be to monitor energy usage via mobile devices and remotely control it. The reward could be called the “energy champion of the week”, and the feedback could be in terms of a user’s ranking in energy challenges compared to his neighbours.
The fundamental goal of gamification is to reduce consumption across each device category, or on an overall basis, either for individual consumers or collectively as a group. Devices can be classified according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs across essentialness, comfort and luxury. Consumers will be able to view their energy consumption across each device category and compare it with the peer group’s. The value of gamification increases significantly with the increase in the number of users and their degree of collaboration with each other. A gamification lifecycle has five distinct phases: initiation, attraction, encouragement, enhancement and motivation. The initiation phase is driven by the goal; the attraction, encouragement and enhancement phases by experience and reward; and the motivation phase by feedback.
Smart grids, in collaboration with the five digital forces, have a significant role to play in the success of gamification. The interval consumption data from a smart grid (aggregated or at device levels) helps a utility understand consumption patterns and define the goal of a game. The social aspect of gamification enables the provision of a platform for self-esteem, attracts more and more users, and increases the collaboration between them, as it is easier to achieve goals as a group rather than as individuals. Mobility increases users’ convenience by encouraging them to play the game from anywhere and at any time, while cloud enhances users’ gamification experience through faster processing.
Sample game for Indian utilities
A utility can send a proactive SMS to the targeted customers before the start of the peak period, stating, “Be the day’s Best Energy Saver from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. and win an experience. To participate, reply with ‘okay’.” The customer then replies and agrees to become a part of the game. The customer now has to create a team, which can consist of either one player (only the individual customer) or multiple players (more than one customer). Customers can also create multiple teams with unique team compositions, which can then compete against each other. Utilities analyse the past patterns of each team’s energy consumption and make a prediction of how much energy they are likely to use in the peak period, without any incentives, and notify them of the same. Teams consuming fewer units than predicted by the utility will receive points and awards based on their ranking. The utility will also share energy saving tips with each team. After receiving the communications and predictions, each team will try to achieve a consumption that is less than the prediction. Winners will be determined by the extent of reduction of units achieved by each team against their predictions. There can be daily, weekly or monthly winners, who can then be moved to the next level at a later stage and given a tougher target and higher rewards.
From being mere passive consumers of electri-city, consumers have evolved in terms of leveraging fast developing technologies. In the era of their empowerment, customers’ engagement is rapidly becoming the key to the success of a business. Gamification is a powerful tool to engage with such empowered groups as well as to generate key customer insights so that utilities can define their business strategies in a more efficient manner. Gamification does more than just allow empowered consumers to measure, control and benchmark consumption at the granular level. It also helps create an interactive community to control consumption. In the future, the success of gamification in utilities will depend on how they define their digital roadmap to leverage the power of data, social media, cloud, analytics and mobility for sustaining and facilitating the increasing number of customer engagements.
Based on a presentation by Anindya Pradhan, Business Consultant, and Krishna V. Prasad, Adviser, TCS at the India Smart Grid Week 2015