Shumway divulges the company’s tailored approach to turning necessities into solutions and talks about the foundation of their business strategy and why knowledge breeds better customer satisfaction.
UMC: How have Allconnect’s solutions changed since its inception in 1998?
UMC: Allconnect was started in Atlanta in 1998. What values have driven the company as it grew from a startup, to where it is today?
Kim Shumway: It has always been important that we deliver for our partners and that their customers have a good experience. It all comes down to people. Over the years, we’ve tweaked the language a little, but our core values have stayed pretty constant:
- Make Ideas Happen
We believe that creativity breeds possibility, and we roll up our sleeves to get it done.
- Think "We," Not Just "Me"
We work together, knowing that none of us can do this alone.
- Find a Way to Win
We pursue every opportunity with grit and integrity.
- Move Forward and Grow
We do our best every day and challenge ourselves to be even better tomorrow.
- Enjoy the Journey
We always have fun– because the experience is just as important as the destination.
These values have served us pretty well - we now have a presence across the entire country with offices in Atlanta, Kentucky and Utah, serving over 50M households with over 16K product SKUs. We’ll keep growing and evolving, but I think our values will remain constant.
UMC: What is your newest solution?
Shumway: We have two that are currently in progress—one is a statewide marketing campaign to educate consumers about energy efficient options. Another connects consumers to facial recognition software that predicts future events to ensure the best policy is purchased with life insurance carriers.
We will continue to push the boundaries and evolve, but our value proposition - to make the complex simple - remains unchanged, and our platform scales regardless of product suite, engagement tactic or regulatory environment. The pieces that change are the target market and the intelligence needed to connect the right products to the right people; that’s where we get creative and delve into customization.
UMC: How does Allconnect go about informing utility customers about renewable options?
Shumway: It depends on the actual program the utility is offering, since they all have their own complexities and potential customer base, but we have had a lot of success with a wind program we work on with a large utility.
The utility launched their wind initiative in 1998, and it allows customers to purchase renewable energy for their homes and businesses and allocate part or all of their energy needs to the renewable option. The program was initially very successful, but then the utility ran into some customer acquisition challenges. They were doing things like bill inserts, which were not only costly, but negated the renewable intent of the program.
Since they had worked with us since 2002 on the Move Advisor program, they turned to us for help in 2012. It was easy for us to identify eligible customers on the Move Advisor calls which were already coming in and explain to them the program and how to enroll. We also let customers know that, by enrolling, they are purchasing renewable energy generated in excess of the utility’s other mandates, meaning they would have a direct impact on increasing renewable energy production in their region.
To participate, the customer simply says ‘yes’ and agrees to:
- Purchase a block of wind-generated energy for as low as $1 to $2 a month, including free enrollment.
- Participate for at least one year.
It’s been a really effectiveand cost-efficient way to increase the number of customers using renewable energy. We’ve enrolled more than 60k customers to date, and the rate of enrollment is 20% higher than it was before we got involved.
UMC: Let’s talk specifically about your “SimpleChoice” program. Where did the need for this solution originate from?
Shumway: In 2012, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission mandated that Electric Distribution Companies (known as EDCs) include a Standard Offer Customer Referral Program proposal in their default service plans. With the goal of driving participation in the retail energy markets, the order’s guidelines stated that the program must offer residential and small commercial customers the opportunity to “opt in” to a 12-month fixed price contract at a 7% discount to the EDC’s then-current Price to Compare (PTC).
EDCs were also ordered to augment their existing call centers, infrastructure and resources to accommodate the program.
So it’s a pretty complicated program—especially to customers who might not know that much about the industry. But simplifying the complicated is what Allconnect does best, and one of our long-time partners looked to us to help devise a solution that would help them meet the terms of the order with as little fuss—and cost—as possible. And that’s how SimpleChoice was born.
The program educates customers in simple terms about their electricity options and distributes enrollments to participating suppliers evenly. By combining our expertise in creating a great customer experience with our back-end technology, we have helped our partners meet the order and satisfy customers.
Since we started doing SimpleChoice in 2014, we’ve got two partners using it in Pennsylvania, and enrollment in the Standard Offer Program has met or exceeded 70% while customer satisfaction has stayed in the high 80s.
UMC: In the J.D. Power’s most recent research study on customer satisfaction in the utility industry, it was found that “the more products and services the utility’s customers know about, the higher their overall satisfaction.” Why do you believe this is the case?
Shumway: That’s what we see as well—customers are more satisfied when a product is offered. The reason is pretty straightforward—today’s consumer wants choices, and they want to feel like every company they do business with is offering them unique products and services to fit their specific needs. Utilities need to continue to provide safe, reliable power, but they also need to offer additional options to customers who care about the environment, want to save or want to keep up with the latest technology.
Customers really like that utilities are starting to care about what matters to them. Everywhere else they do business, they have choices, and most companies that market to them already know a little bit about what they want and - if they don’t - they learn over time. That’s just the new norm. But until recently, it wasn’t the norm for their utility, so they definitely notice—and appreciate—when their utility starts to offer them options as well.
UMC: What have you learned about the state of industry change, and how are you helping to add value in the midst of all this?
Shumway: There’s no doubt that there is a shift happening towards a more distributed and consumer-focused energy system. In our work with utilities, we have learned that customers essentially want three things: choice, consultation and control. They don’t compare their experience with utilities to the last utility they worked with, either. They compare it to their last experience with Uber or Amazon or other large companies they use in their daily life.
The current shift seems to be happening faster and faster as the pace of technological advancement increases—and the expectations of the consumers rise parallel.
The companies that are successfully keeping up are the ones that realize the cost of trying to reinvent themselves at the same pace far outweighs the value. Instead, they rely on smart partnerships; with companies like us to add new products, services and experiences, or with companies like Nest who offer consumers a more integrated experience as they create a connected home.
A decade ago, a lot of people in our industry knew that change was coming, but I’m not sure anyone could have really anticipated just how fast it would move—and how much it would keep changing—in such a short amount of time. The ability to bring new ideas to the market quickly and at a low cost is absolutely crucial in this environment, and it has been really exciting for us to help our partners do just that.
UMC: A while back I heard an idea floating around that TV and Internet were the utilities of the future. Having experience in producing utility, TV and internet solutions, do you believe the latter is just as essential as water, heat and electric?
Shumway: Absolutely; we already see this perception in consumers, especially when it comes to the Internet. The definition of a utility is an enterprise or public-service corporation that performs an essential public service. Think about your daily life today—how much of it would be possible without the Internet?
The traditional utilities you mentioned will always be important, but there isn’t much today that isn’t driven by the Internet and connectivity. Smart homes. The smart grid. Communication. Digital assistants (Siri, Alexa, etc.). Even your TV.
While some consumers have “cut the cord” with cable and satellite, those companies are now delivering new solutions that give their customers the best of both worlds (e.g. SlingTV or Xfinity’s partnership with Netflix). What do all of those new solutions have in common? They rely on the Internet. That’s unlikely to change; I think it’s actually going to increase.
UMC: The energy industry seems to be waiting with bated breath to see what the President-elect has in store for us. In your opinion, do you think this new administration will have a significant impact on the renewables and clean energy polices?
Shumway: Our approach to the industry has always been to position ourselves to create solutions to pretty much any challenge that our partners may have regardless of politics. We work in highly regulated states and in de-regulated states. Among our current partners, we already serve a very wide range of needs and work with companies whose approaches greatly differ, so our goal is to stay flexible to meet those needs.
Customers are still going to need products and services, and they’re still going to want advice and consultation about those products and services.
I also believe that customers will always want choice now, too—there’s just no going back from that. So even as politics change, I don’t think you’ll see renewable energy simply disappear.
I’m happy to say that Allconnect can deliver solutions that help utilities meet their goals regardless of what those goals are—or who is in office.