As the world of connected things becomes increasingly smarter, businesses continue to seek new ways to better serve their customers.
One such organization is Hydro Ottawa, a large Canadian electricity distribution company. Utilities aren’t usually what spring to mind when the topic of smart technology comes up, but Hydro Ottawa provides a great example of how any type of organization can use innovative thinking to create new channels through which to interact with and serve customers.
Dedicated to Customer Experience
As the third largest municipally owned electric utility in the region, Hydro Ottawa, located in eastern Ontario, is a regulated electricity local distribution company, serving 332,000 residential and commercial customers.
Hydro Ottawa decided to take on more innovative digital projects so its customers could enjoy the sort of digital experience they’re used to online. The Hydro Ottawa team decided that a foundational feature of this strategy would be a customer identity solution to centralize and unify customer identity data.
Keeping Customer Identity Secure
Of course, security is of utmost importance for customer safety. The utility found an option that enabled them to offer their customers a secure, streamlined login and registration system. The Hydro Ottawa team was able to customize the password validation rules to meet their security requirements. They now enforce password rules that require a minimum length, data type (alphanumeric) and inclusion of uppercase and special characters. The solution’s single sign-on (SSO) capabilities made the utility’s various online properties easier to access.
In addition, Hydro Ottawa needed to make sure that customer access to new services would be seamless. Through their implementation, Hydro Ottawa was able to connect all of their web and mobile properties in a single customer portal. Using SSO, customers seamlessly navigate Hydro Ottawa web applications without needing to sign up or log in again. Customers can now easily access their accounts online to see a variety of information.
When the utility was confident that SSO improved customers’ login experience, it could move on to developing new interactive channels. By using the identity solution and digital infrastructure already in place, Hydro Ottawa was able to release a mobile application. It’s the first app in North America to let customers track their household’s electricity usage and costs, access their billing information, and find out about current power outages using a single tool.
Security, SSO and Smart Speaker Skills
Once Hydro Ottawa saw that their efforts on the mobile app had succeeded, the next step was the creation of smart speaker skills to give customers even more ways to interact with the utility. The team used OAuth 2.0 capabilities and their solution’s API to build their smart speaker skills with Google Home and Amazon Alexa. Because the key identity management infrastructure was already in place – addressing the key factors of user authentication, security and data storage – Hydro Ottawa was able to build and launch these skills in a record timeline of three weeks.
Hydro Ottawa now has the distinction of being the first utility in Canada, and possibly in North America, to launch a successful smart speaker offering that can carry on a continuous, contextual conversation to inform customers of their account and billing and educate them on energy conservation.
Today, Hydro Ottawa customers have the option of using basic voice commands to ask their Alexa or Google Home about current electricity rates, bill information, power outages and tips on reducing electricity usage. This first rollout has laid the groundwork for the team to build more features into the smart speaker skills, providing Hydro Ottawa customers with an intuitive smart home experience.
A Unified View
To remove all data silos, Hydro Ottawa uses cloud data storage that automatically normalizes and unifies customer data. This way, the team always accesses the most up-to-date and complete customer information from a single database, regardless of when or how they are retrieving their customer data.
Consequently, the utility now has greater visibility into who their customers are. They can augment existing customer data with additional data collected through interactions. These richer profiles lead to increased understanding of customer demographics, questions and behaviors for better and more fine-tuned segmentation. The Hydro Ottawa team can then build even better technology to serve their customers.
Security as a Springboard for Innovation
Organizations of all kinds, from retail and quick-serve to utilities and government agencies, are looking for ways to improve customer experience and interaction. Now that consumers are used to 24/7 access from anywhere, organizations need to step up their game to remain competitive and relevant. Possibilities are limited only by the imagination – and the security requirements. Hydro Ottawa serves as a promising example of an organization that got the basics of customer identity and data security down first and then was able to innovate new customer experiences.
About the Author
Garrett Ungaro is the revenue leader at LoginRadius, provider of cloud-based SaaS customer identity access management solutions. In this role, he leads a high-performing sales team across global accounts. Prior to joining the Vancouver-based company, he served in sales leadership positions with TELUS, Bell Canada, Avaya, PerfectMind and other high technology organizations.
Featured image: ©Skorzewiak