Most times when technical operatives in the setup tend to be much engrossed in ‘operational matters’, it is marketing that ‘jolts’ them into customers’ sensitivities and resultant revenue losses. When an organisation overlooks such interrelationship, consumers’ concerns become neglected and earnings suffer. As marketing remains “all that should be needed to favourably make products or services (in this case, utility) available to the end-user”, I urge that an electric power distribution company’s engineering related activities (which most times affect the customer in one way or another) should always make provision for marketing input.
The place of retail electricity marketing is more or less non-existent within the other two up-stream stages of the provision of electricity, generation and transmission (power marketing takes place at these wholesale levels). Bearing in mind that the distribution system is the most visible part of the electricity supply chain, and likely susceptible to public bashing, an electric power distribution utility or Distribution Network Operator (DNO) which allows marketing to play “second fiddle”, in view of current almost hostile disposition of Nigerian consumers, does so at its peril.
This is why I recommend a structure for marketing that encompasses distribution system services (not distribution system operations) at the Chief Marketing Officer’s level, domiciled at the DNO’s head office – In recognition of distribution system being that portion of an electric system which is dedicated to delivering electric energy to an end user. This structure also makes for linkage to a DNO’s branches (local offices in this regard) which comprise retail channels for facilitating service delivery to end users.
I advise that electricity distribution system services come within the ambit of marketing through a ‘‘Marketing & Distribution System Services” division structured with these two main departments: (a) Sales & Distribution Services, and (b) Communications & Customer Service. Unit’s responsibilities for (a) above should comprise of sales activities; distribution channel services (branch affairs); distribution network power quality (customer-suited operational efficiency); customer demographics & geo-referencing; metering; billing & invoicing; and callout.
Units within (b) above should cater for public relations & publicity (media leverage); advertising; web and electronic tools; community relations; events; customer relations & complaint resolution; and outage communication. To diffuse any misgiving about obvious ‘operation sounding’ functions in responsibilities stated above, these will help by way of clarification:
– Distribution network power quality: Even where proper operations components of a DNO implies reliability (no breaking down of supply); safety (not experiencing dangerous failures); availability of supply (having good condition always); and maintainability (being quickly repairable), these technical functions must be skewed
to satisfy the yearnings of the customer. Remember, marketing is synonymous with the customer.
– Customer demographics & geo-referencing: This entails scientifically ascertaining where the customer is, who the customer is, and how many the customers are. Geo-referencing facilitates identification of customers’ locations and spread applying the Global Positioning System (GPS).
– Metering: This is the process of ascertaining exactly how many kilowatt-hour (kWh) have been used over a given period of time (usually a month), using the electric meter (a device used to measure the consumption of electricity at a residence, business, or by any device that runs with electricity). Effective metering of all customers obviously favours both parties – The DNO and the customer. Effective metering aids customer demographics and reduction of commercial losses (losses incurred through pilferage, defective meters, errors in meter reading and in estimating un-metered supply of energy, often associated with undocumented and unknown consumers or undocumented but known consumers paying for a fraction of their usage into unofficial pockets). A typical Nigerian customer derives satisfaction from being able to effectively monitor and regulate electricity consumption through metering, as we are quite aware of the ill effects of estimated (“crazy”) billing.
– Callout: This entails the response of the service crew to incidents of faults within the distribution network (e.g. failed supply, defective transformer, irregular voltage, line snapped, pole leaning, broken wire, burnt or faulty meter, etc). Considering that effective operation of the electric power distribution company will be assured if every unit of energy sold is accounted for, how effective callout responses are managed rubs off on the DNO in the area of revenue enhancement and complaint management.
– Web and electronic tools: This pertains to the use of the internet (web site, social media, blog, etc), and information technology (IT) based automation (Geographic Information System or GIS) as tools of marketing. Marketing can derive benefits from IT in the areas of communication, consumer billing, customer service, sales activities, GPS application, complaint management, and callout.
– Outage communication: During an outage (when there is absence of power), the customer needs to be appeased through being informed about the cause of an outage (this may look out of place going by what Nigerians have been faced with all along); if rectification has been initiated; and when repairs will be effected. Marketing often takes note of the frequency of outages; duration of each outage; and the number of occurrence within a defined period, as outages have bearing on a DNO’s income.
While I believe that these private-sector oriented Distribution Network Operators will benefit from my submission here by way of getting it right, the effects of goings-on in the electric power distribution sub-sector in Nigeria, as they affect the Nigerian public (consumers), takes centre stage in “Distribution Network Operators and Public Skepticism”, which comes next.