Voice activated devices are not a novelty for Americans anymore, and they’re starting to cross the borders and spread worldwide. The US is the second biggest market for smart speakers after China. Having Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa at home has become standard: they’re convenient, user-friendly, and simplify our routines. But they can do more than that: voice-based personal assistants can work toward the goal of intelligently using resources by educating consumers, helping them control energy consumption, and making utility consumption more transparent.
It is predicted that 55% of US broadband households will have a smart voice-based assistant by 2021. It’s high time utilities made use of these devices since they represent a new way to engage customers and complement intelligent home systems with vital functionality.
Voice technology segments in the US
Source — Finances Online
Voice of the household
Utility companies are starting to turn to voice technology and advanced analytics to engage their customers and provide highly personalized services. Improving the customer experience and reducing the number of calls to contact centers are the most immediate results of cooperation between utilities and voice assistant providers.
Traditionally, utility companies have communicated with consumers via direct mail, email, and call centers. But these methods don’t offer a proactive and personalized approach. Some energy companies started offering voice capabilities to their customers a few years ago, providing information on energy consumption, payment notifications, energy-saving tips, and more via Alexa or Google Assistant.
At the moment, the list of capabilities offered by voice assistants is a bit broader but still quite limited. While many utility companies allow users to hear their account balances, just a quarter have voice payment functionality. Also, while voice assistants can provide general energy-saving tips, there’s no connection to the customer’s actual energy use.
Voice capabilities utility companies provide today
Source — E Source
However, it is expected that utility companies will start turning to third-party vendors that can provide advanced analytics capabilities to voice-activated devices and deliver highly personalized customer services. Currently, utilities cannot engage with customers via voice for smart control and automation, but it seems like a logical step.
Telecoms, TV subscription services, and ridesharing companies are already using voice assistance tech, and utilities are expected to follow the lead in 2021 and beyond.
Voice assistants: Changing everything from QA to customer satisfaction
Data — specifically, relevant and personalized data — will be the key to unlocking customers’ interest in using voice assistants for energy consumption and utility management. Utility companies can use voice assistants to:
- automate IoT devices that manage and control consumption
- facilitate payments
- promote business partners
- personalize customer support
- compare energy consumption within the neighborhood
- provide reports on outages and malfunctions
- send high bill alerts
For tech leaders, this kind of voice assistance technology will mean that AI and natural language processing solutions have to be customized for the utility field. A smart data-informed system should be able to answer questions about utility bills and provide advice on how to reduce costs.
What do market leaders have to offer utility companies?
Amazon and Google are the leaders in the smart home virtual assistant market. Their products are the gold standard, since they can control thousands of IoT devices from different brands. Recently, these companies have also released smart speakers with screens — the Amazon Echo Show and Google Home Hub — which can fit the needs of utility companies (e.g. display charts of energy use). Bixby, Siri, Cortana, HomePod, and Watson hang behind a bit, both in terms of adoption and device coverage.
All voice assistants offer capabilities that utility companies can take advantage of in their apps:
- What requests a device can handle
- Knowledge of vocabulary a user will use to make requests
- Recognition of tasks, etc.
In 2018, Google partnered with Tendril (an energy management startup) and Michigan Power (a utility company) to launch a new utility program. Now, energy providers can deliver personalized bills, usage data, and insights via Google Assistant devices. Google is also partnering with other utility companies and some solution providers to integrate Google technologies into this sector.
IBM is working with Endesa, a Spanish energy company, to provide quick and personalized customer support with the Watson virtual assistant. The next step is to implement more functionality and build custom voice-activated apps on top of Watson.
Combined with Apple HomeKit and the iHome SmartPlug, Siri provides customers with voice control over everything from speakers to lights. You can manage all your home devices distantly, monitoring your boiler, thermostat, refrigerator, and so on, significantly reducing your energy bill.
Home energy management solutions built for smart speakers or virtual assistants and complemented by customized functionality to fit the utility industry can make the difference for both consumers and businesses. With the pace at which utility companies are partnering with tech leaders, we can expect to see some great advances in 2021.
Self-service and a personalized approach continue to grow in popularity, and voice technology is an efficient tool to provide a high-quality customer experience. Utility companies are starting to embrace voice assistant devices and partner with software providers to build customized solutions for smart home systems. Voice assistants can help utility companies ensure service quality and brand loyalty by answering customers’ questions like
- What’s the best time to run the washing machine or dishwasher to benefit from reduced rates?
- How can I lower my energy bills?
- What are my energy consumption stats?
- And so on
Voice assistants can also become a new sales channel for non-traditional home energy devices, monitoring systems, contractor services, etc. And, of course, smart voice assistants will gather valuable data about customer behavior and help tune companies’ offerings according to those needs.
In the next year, voice assistants will include more functionality to fit the business goals of utility companies and help people consume resources more efficiently and consciously. Contact us to explore and harness the opportunities virtual assistants will offer soon.