OK Google: Connect my utility

Rachael Harper, Research Manager –

During CS Week in April, technology was a notable theme and on full display during the “Ok Google, Connect my Utility” session hosted by Google, Reliant Energy, a subsidiary of NRG Energy, and Xcel Energy.

Google has been working with the two utilities, helping them tailor experiences across various assistant devices, identifying new opportunities to engage users and allowing them to integrate with simple APIs that provide personalized user insights.

Chris Cardenas, Vice President of Customer Service at Xcel Energy, and Meghan McConomy, Director of Marketing Strategy at NRG Energy, along with representatives from Google, revealed a new opportunity for utilities with the addition of an energy-focused developer program, designed to allow energy companies a faster way to get seamlessly integrated with Google Assistant.

Reliant Energy, which began working on the program last year, began its partnership with Google in 2013, mostly working with Nest. Reliant’s Truly Free Weekends plan includes a free Google Home Hub with Google Assistant, which allows customers to ask Google simple questions such as, “When does my free weekend start?” Customers can also use voice commands to pay their bill, track their usage or check their account balance.

Xcel Energy is preparing to include options for bill pay, outage reporting, account balance, high bill alert and start/stop transactions. Its first phase of assistant interactions will roll out later this year and allow customers to receive tips on how to save energy, with options to request their account balance and pay their bill coming later. Other early access partners include AEP, Con Edison, CenterPoint Energy and Southern California Edison.

As technology has improved, consumers are becoming more comfortable using their smart speakers to interact with businesses.

Smart assistants are the fastest growing consumer technology products. According to Voicebot, 1 billion devices have Google Assistant, which is available in 80 countries and 28 languages.

This increase in smart assistant use is also driven by another noticeable trend: personalization. Mass personalization enabled by artificial intelligence is a main driver for customer technology preferences – 91% of consumers are more likely to shop with brands that recognize, remember and provide relevant offers and recommendations, according to Accenture’s 2018 Personalization Pulse Check report.

In addition, Generation Z, who by 2020 will be the largest consumer group of consumers, currently represent up to $143 billion in buying power, according to Forbes. As they begin to enter the workforce and wield even more buying power, they expect easy-to-use, intuitive and personalized products like Uber and Netflix. This presents a unique opportunity for utilities to improve the customer experience and become more customer-centric by harnessing technology that allows them to personalize their products, services and communications.

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