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Customer Service through effective, targeted Customer Communications: It’s just good business sense.  

We’ve all witnessed and discussed increasing negativity among members of the general public when their neighborhoods become targeted for Smart Grid rollouts: Lawsuits, Grassroots Protests; Video Blogs; commentaries on YouTube videos; discussions and feedback in a variety of forums, and more. Much of this debate and disruption has been confined to smaller, isolated publications and special interest sites (e.g., local newspapers in rollout areas and sites like Utilities, with their monopolistic status secure, may feel little need to improve communication with their customers, assured as they are of a power (and water) hungry customer-base with limited options for alternate suppliers. However, complacency and hubris in business, as in other forums, have a historically significant track record of predicting major downfalls. 

Now, even a major mainstream business publication, Forbes, has begun commenting-- critiquing and taking utilities and vendors to task for their disregard and general lack of understanding of the psychology of the modern consumer, as well as their perceived lack of interest in obtaining these insights.  Recommendations found in recent Forbes coverage includes the following:

CIO Network’s Bob Lento observes the great effort people have taken both individually and collectively to oppose all sorts of Smart Grid relevant actions. These include direct blocking efforts by cities with meter bans and tower bans, and in one case even drafting a Smart Grid Bill of Rights. Despite these overt and effortful actions, there’s still relatively little impetus to change energy-usage behaviors. As Lento states: “John Doe …. is still doing his laundry during peak load hours, the utility is paying top dollar in infrastructure costs and high-cost backup power plants.” He advocates the pressing need for effective consumer education and outreach, allowing the consumers to “interact with companies through the contact channel of their choice, be it over the phone or text message or e-mail. Energy providers can give their customers energy use updates via alerts, charts, automated phone messages, text messages, chats, twitter updates and online portals. When utilities pour money-saving tips and information on ways to leverage their smart meter into every communications channel, consumers will listen and – maybe – begin to change.”

William Pentland of the Pace Energy and Climate Center views the dilemmas surrounding emerging awareness of Smart Grid even more darkly. He cites a study by the Ponemon Institute revealing that the more people know about Smart Grid, the less they like it. Although this study mostly concerned the cyber security aspect, it also reveals a significant level of public distrust of utility providers. This distrust will not be alleviated by maintaining a business-as-usual approach, Pentland asserts, but instead indicates the tremendous need for effective, targeted, customer-centered communication.


In a more recent article, Pentland traced the failure of pricing strategies to effectively motivate consumers to become more energy-efficient. During a record increase in fuel prices which resulted in increased electricity prices, New York’s Public Service Commission mandated an hourly electrical power pricing policy. Their action was intended to “send consumers price signals that accurately reflect the costs of producing the power they are consuming.” But rather than reducing demand at peak load times as intended, their actions actually resulted in increased usage during peak hours. Rather than changing their behaviors, commercial customers sought to insure themselves against potential increased costs by entering into “power-supply contracts with third-party ESCOs [Energy Service Companies] that limit their exposure to daily price fluctuations.” Had more effective campaigns encouraging changes in behavior been created and implemented, the city and utility would have increased their abililty to attain their desired results.

Instead, too many utilities persist with ineffective messaging strategies, utilizing the same channels they have always used. This stands in direct contrast to other businesses with which customers actually like interacting, and for which they are willing to pay a premium price due to the perceived value those businesses provide. “Federal Express allows their customers to track deliveries in real time as they travel to their door-step from virtually any corner of the world. While this is only a sliver of the information that flows through the Federal Express logistical juggernaut, it is more information than most electric utilities in the United States provide their customers.” Pentland accuses the utilities of clinging to outdated paper-based management systems. In an apt metaphor, he describes this as operating in “the dark ages of data management.”

The partnership between LA’s Department of Water and Power and USC’s Customer Behavior team offers a remarkable opportunity to revolutionize customer communications to motivate effective behavior changes and create willing - perhaps even eager - adoption of Smart Grid technologies.  To do anything less than fully embrace this opportunity resembles Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

What is needed instead is an integrated partnership between experts in fields of Sociology, Communication, and Psychology to come together and develop effective public education and outreach campaigns. These can effectively develop programs consumers want to use, and on which they feel comfortable interacting with other service providers. For example, iPhone users have long been able to program their TiVos on DirectTV and other satellite/cable providers’ systems to record television programs while away from home. Smart Grid and related technologies offer the potential for similar remote control of home or business appliances. Will these dreams be realized in a user-centric manner? Or will they develop more along the lines of programmable thermostats, which although they offer great potential for control and energy savings, do so within a device most deem too difficult to program. In fact, although “these devices were thought to generate savings of 10 to 30 percent, and close to half of U.S. homes now have them. In 2006, though, the DOE stopped pushing the thermostats, which aren't cheap, after multiple studies showed the actual savings was zero — not because the inventors hadn't understood the laws of physics, but because consumers didn't use the things right. They couldn't figure out how to program the thermostats, didn't believe they'd work and so didn't bother, set the temperature higher during the day and thereby canceled out the savings from the setback at night, and so on.” (Adams, 2010) 

To us, as social scientists, this situation offers a tremendous opportunity for communication, outreach, and educational programs to help vendors develop more user-friendly interfaces; educate the public on the devices effectiveness; create feelings of self-efficacy (e.g., “I don’t have to be a techno-geek to use this!”); reward them for their pro-social and energy-efficient behaviors by reminding them how much they’re saving in engaging and even entertaining ways.

We are very eager to examine which features of emerging energy applications catch on with the public, and determine why. Applications and appliances are being developed in a tremendous variety of forums, even by vendors who haven’t traditionally been in the energy business (e.g., Google, Cisco). When the telephone industry began to take tremendous leaps into cellular, digital, wireless and other technologies we take for granted today, they referred to these as PANS (Pretty Amazing New Stuff), as compared to the existing POTS (Plain Old Telephone Systems). The industry and their consultants spent tremendous time and funds surveying customers, running focus groups, and other efforts in order to develop the still improving smartphones and other devices that have achieved phenomenal popularity. AT&T alone almost tripled their Net Income from 2005 to 2009.

What had been the traditional phone utility evolved into a much broader array of services and communication technologies.  “Approximately 70 percent of AT&T's revenues are generated by our growth areas of wireless, wireline data and managed services.” (Annual Shareholders Report, 2009)  These are income streams from technologies which didn’t even exist, or were in their relative infancy, as little as a decade ago. Part of this industry transformation is no doubt due to the influx of expertise from what had been unrelated industries: Sony, Apple, Samsung and others manufacture far better phones than ever dreamed up in decades of designs from Bell Telephone Laboratories. Now my phone not only allows me to talk to people, but also to send text messages, check my email, surf the internet, program my television to record a show I won’t make it home in time to watch while it airs, access my bank account, read news articles, watch videos, get directions, take pictures, get the accurate time, and so much more.

In addition to assisting Smart Grid and related technologies into products and services people actually want to acquire and use, the Customer Behavioral team of experts is also focused on developing intervention and educational strategies. It will be beneficial to develop more effective messaging strategies for LADWP’s existing communications technologies (e.g., Billing Inserts, Web Pages, Interactive Voice/Telephone Systems and Call Centers). Rather than simply presenting the usage and cost information, more effective billing statements might include gain-framed messages. For example, providing information tailored to specific customers’ usage patterns, identifying a few effective energy usage changes they could make to reduce their overall bill. Alternately, messages could encourage and praise those customers who are already taking steps to cut their usage.

Developing targeted messages to provide customers with information meeting their individual interests and needs, using new and emerging communication methods to communicate with customers, and being responsive as energy usage patterns change will help LADWP ensure they are able to roll out Smart Grid and related technologies to a receptive – rather than resistant – consumer base.



How The Smart Grid Fell From Grace And What To Do About It (2/17/11)

Why Smart People Are Suspicious of Smart Meters (12/10/10)

As Power Grid Gets Smart, New Yorkers Scramble to Stay Dumb (2/4/11)

Dark Grid: Electric Utilities Scramble to Get Smart (11/22/10)

The Smart Grid's Struggle

Cecil Adams (12/3/10) Does turning down the thermostat at night save energy?

AT&T’s Annual Report to Shareholders for 2009. Available at:


New commentary in


Smart Grid Blowback: Reactions to Videos

A recent report from the Department of Energy states: “The ultimate success of the Smart Grid depends on the effectiveness of these devices in attracting and motivating large numbers of consumers.” (DOE_SmartGridExplained.PDF, p. 15)

 Therefore, it is important to assess what the likely predictors are for uptake and/or rejection of these technologies: What are people saying, thinking, and feeling in reaction to early reports on the future of the Smart Grid, Smart Panels, and of energy technologies in general? Is there excitement, confusion, or fear among different identifiable groups? Who are likely to be the early adopters vs. the initial resistors? This study has been undertaken to attempt to catalogue and categorize the existing reactions; in order to begin to determine how best to educate, attract, and motivate the mass of consumers required to make Smart Grid and related technologies a viable success.

 To begin developing an initial baseline reading of public sentiment toward and against Smart Grid, data has been mined from existent discussion and feedback forums. The method is akin to naturalistic observation, but in a virtual realm.  One such rich database where these reactions have been found is in reactions to YouTube videos featuring aspects of Smart Grid projects in development.


The following is a categorized list of sample quotations illustrating some of the main resistance themes.[1]

 Many of these videos come from corporations promoting features and benefits of coming technologies (e.g., General Electric, Siemens, Cisco). Much of the reaction against aspects of these fall into the following categories:

  • Anti-Big Business as evil, oppressive, greedy or abusive force:
    • General Electric can go to hell! Stupid advertising! I can't believe how many people are taken in by anything all cute and gimmicky. PLEASE for your own enlightenment, google GE's criminal record over the years. They're among the worst polluters in the world, the biggest producers of toxic waste, huge shirkers of their responsibility for poisoning us and our planet! Death mongers! Don't be fooled by high tech optical illusions!
    • {G}eneral electric is famous for poisoning the air we breathe, the water we drink, and thousands of people, for bullying its workers and pressuring them with threats, for usury and bad banking and loan practices- oh, and for cutesy poo commercials. see wiki for a glimse at ge's criminal record
    • General Electric is a many armed, multinational corporation with a long history of exploitive and criminal practices. According to the Environmental Protection Agency it is the third largest producer of air pollution and toxic waste in the world. Don't be rooked by pretty advertising gimmicks. Read up, be informed, and boycott this evil corporation!
    • The oil companies are finally realizing that they need a new income stream. Nice of us to let them monopolize this too! Oh well, I'm used to being a slave anyway.
    • These people are crooks. Beware of big business!
    • They will tell you_ all the good about something new but will ALWAYS fail to tell you the bad and possible power they will gain over the people.
    • Pretty cool but this just another way for Cisco to try and_ make money and charge a fortune for it.


  • Anti-ties between business and government:
    • GE bailout scam artists.  They are advertising ignorant commercials on youtube like this with YOUR tax dollars. GE BLOWS
    • Smart Grid ... Time Warner Cable's "All-In-One" package ... GM (Government Motors)... We have just about come Full Circle from a Free Constitutional Republic to a bullshit fed, USSA-Obama-Nazi Homeland that even the likes of which Hitler himself would outspank Pee Wee Herman over. The American People, Most of_ them anyway can't spell their own name without looking down at the nametags on the government approved shirts. Land of the free .....BULLSHIT.
    • These marketing people figure if they want people to do something stupid they can call it smart. This is Corporate_ Welfare for GE Google IBM & AT&T.
    • Ours are being installed now. It is all in place. Bailout for energy corps. Hidden tax ! Copenhagen Agenda!
    • Yes, this WOULD be good, if GE wasn't in the pocket of big government. Who's to say, Hey, you keep your temp in your house way too cool in the summer. We are going to bump your thermastat up from 76 to 83. "It's whats best for everyone!! Welcome Big Brother!


  • Privacy concerns:
    • the_ power co. here, [D]ominion, had a big hooplah this summer about Charlottesville being the first city to get smartgrid, can you believe that they actually tout 'more privacy' as one of the benefits LMFAO
    • This tech allows the govt to see what kinds of electrical devices you have in your home and when and how much_ you use them. This is a a blatant slap in the face of privacy rights. Say NO.
      • I read that too, didn't know that part until this morning..over my dead body will_ this meter or device run on my home.I'll smash it to bits.
      • it's happening_ in florida too.
      • Thank you, was wondering where else..looks like the entire country will be stuck with with utility_ companies dictating to them how and when they should eat, sleep and live - unless they start saying NO..seems people rather wait for worst case scenario to do anything, doing something means being inconvenienced I guess


  • Government intrusion:
    • The smart grid is another way the Government will REGULATE your life. It will know how much energy on what and when. If the right chip is placed in your appliance they can turn it off and retrieve information from your household.
    • This technology will be used against us. Gov. says "What you don't agree with us?" "Well then it's pretty cold outside, isn't" "I think will just_ turn your thermostat down so you can think more comfortably". Who gets the heat and who doesn't. The "Carbon tax" everything!
      • Ding ding ding, you are the_ only comment in the last 4 weeks that understands why they are trying to "sell" us on this smart grid crap. Makes me want to get off the grid!
    • They just want to sell the idea to the sheeple in case they hear anything about how government will use the smart grid to control them more, they can say "bahhhh" and write you off as a "conspiracy theorist" and break into this song in their head instead of thinking for_ themselves. Personally I think it will be a great way to dole out the carbon taxes, we think dealing with the gestapo known as the IRS is bad, wait till we have to pay taxes straight to the IMF.
    • I don't know --  will have to do some research may have to get something on doing my own portable solar generator and maybe use one of those solar showers used for camping I am so sick of this shit we are already struggling people are losing jobs, homes, ect. they are making life so damn hard for us_ right now I just want to put them all in Jail for being traitors.
    • Wait until the smart grid adjusts your air conditioner from a remote office.
    • it's not how you "can" conserve ... it's how you WILL conserve !
    • yea, kick-start and stimulate. because make-work jobs are real jobs, career jobs. and because we need to lower our carbon for climate "change". in response to "global warming" ... the part they don't tell you is that this smart grid will monitor everything you do inside your own home.
    • I'm with you! Smart grid means government will be able to control when and how much power you can use.
    • I am curious to see if this kind of technology will get to the point where convicts can only use so much electricity, and political rivals or other dissidents are punished by taking away their electricity; but then quickly blaming it on "just a mistake".
    • I understand that the government doesn't care when I plug in my toaster, but I still get the feeling it is just another way for them to make my choices for me. And I'm sorry but I refuse to give up any right, no matter how insignificant.
    • "modern software will allow utility companies to moniter and manage consumer energy use in real time." Hello socialism!
      • Welcome to the USSA- the United Socialist States of America. Don't get chairman Obama mad at you!
    • Hitler/Stallen/Napolean = Obama (all in one package)
    • This is not progress! This is being shoved down our throats! We don't want Cap and Trade! We don't want Carbon Taxes. Where is the common sense in the minds of any of these elected officials?


  • Analogies and/or references to dystopian science fiction:
    • The Matrix is everywhere, it is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window, or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, or when go to church or when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth. What? Sorry. I meant the smart grid.
    • This ad cost $3M just for placement. What's missing is the agenda behind it. Big Bro_ wants to track what you do in your daily life.
    • Notice how he slowly begins to call the smartgrid as if it were a proper noun by removing the article "the" from "the smartgrid?" ie "Smartgrid is good for jobs..."It reminds me HAL in n"2001: A Space Odyssey" BIG BROTHER nears.
    • Big Brother is going to tell you when you can use power and if you don't comply they can cut you off.


  • Fear of cost increases: 
    • really? that is pathetic..if this is their idea for creating jobs then we are in some serious trouble..My husband has 2 businesses and one operates almost 24/7..this will kill him if he is required to use them because he would_ not be able to shut much of anything off for peak hours..he rents rehearsal spaces for musicians, they need to use electricity- no way around it
    • Savings? Since when have utility costs_ EVER gone down? No, this is nothing more than an excuse to give Nation money to a select few states...NO...this is bull crap
    • A solar panel would be nice, if they didn't charge anywhere from $1500 to $5000_ a piece for them!!!
    • Hmm sounds like a good idea, how does this work? when it comes to utility rates, if they raise the rates to force people to use less, does that_ mean clients will get back less for their solar or alternative power?
    • We must pay for the sun and the wind. We must pay for the air we breathe. me must pay! PAY! PAY!
    • Lol it will "Help you manage energy" It will keep you from running your wash machine because they will charge you 10x as much. What a total scam to take freedom and money from us.


Other comments indicate negative feelings about aspects of the technologies themselves:

  • Renewable energy sources:
    • Windmills make too much noise and vibration. They make us sick.
    • Americans are sheep. Has anyone seen the windmills in Kansas? They are never spinning! Maybe 3 out of thousands were barely spinning, Millions for one of those things. I wonder who owns them?
    • interesting that they put bird song in the propaganda, since one wind farm can murder thousands of birds per year
    • Hydro used to look like the_ greenest of the green technologies, but you are so dam (sic) right. All they really need to do is create the necessary industrial base to mass manufacture solar electric systems and get them on as many homes as possible and that would......cut into the big boys profits.....never mind....stupid me.


One unanticipated finding was the discovery of user-generated resistance and protestations against Smart Grid and related technologies:

  • Fart Grid Technologies – Currently 471 views, 60 comments (mostly supportive/encouraging and anti-smart grid)
  • Smart Grid is Coming! by “Vicky Volt.” 3757 views, 14 comments (some refute)

These expound on the themes listed above.

 Another observation, videos that specifically mention global warming or climate change as a reason for research, development, and/or adoption of Smart Grid, renewable power sources, energy efficiency, etc. result in a large number of comments refuting global warming as a trick, conspiracy, or scam. Those that instead show other compelling reasons in favor of similar technological advances do not tend to produce comments about it, nor generate the spiral of negativity that often ensues in this forum (e.g., anti-government-funded scientists, anti Al Gore).

  • more bullshit about global warming and how is looking at your electricity usage gonna get rid of_ cars
  • The sky is falling, the sky is falling...  Mis-information woven all throughout. While there will always be some glimmer of truth in presentations like this, it is intended to induce mass hysteria and panic. I don't think the general public realizes how much more expensive it may be to get more deeply involved in greener technologies and distributed generation forms. Do the research...
  • They will tell you all the supposed "good" to come from it like you just did but you fail to see the down side to this.  1. The global warming scam has been exposed for what it is. A SCAM  2. We're not destroying the earth just over exploiting it._ Look's to me that you wish to support a corporation that does most of the damage.  3. The smart grid will do nothing to "curb" peoples power consumption and will possibly make things more expensive. Try to debunk that.



[1] In the interest of providing a true picture, I have not “cleaned up” or censored any of the harsher language contained in some. In rare instances, I have provided minimal editing, such as inserting spaces between words for clarity. I have also removed identifying information, such as usernames and links to personal websites.


Paired Associations & Decluttering Your Space

Or: What's the shelf life on your memories?

How much do we save, display, preserve that has little or no intrinsic value; but we've imbued with meaning because of how it was acquired? You will still have the memory - even without the item; but parting with the object can still feel like a loss. Why? Because psychologically you've created a paired association. Advertisers do this all the time to trick us into purchasing a product because we like their spokes-model, or because they're donating a few pennies to one of our pet causes. Our minds just work this way. Biologically, it's because the limbic system which controls emotions is physically linked in to our memory storage. It's also close to the place where your brain processes smells, so if an item smells good you will likely find it especially difficult to part with.

Here's a new way to break those associations, and start letting go - or at least paring down!

Look around your room. How many memories does this inspire? The painted rock your son made way back in kindergarten. The pencil holder your daughter made for Mother's Day three years ago. The spirit items with which you cheered on your favorite team how many months ago? A gift from a faraway friend or departed relative. Souvenirs of trips, mementos from relationships, cards, awards, even photographs may be contributing to clutter, rather than adding value to your space.

What have you been dusting for so long you barely remember when, why, or how you acquired it? Don't try too hard! Quick, chuck it in the wastebasket before you recreate that associated memory.

Take a few minutes to look at these with a more critical eye. Which one(s), if any, would someone who did not know their story of origin be able to appreciate? It can be great having just one or two stand-out pieces that make people wonder, provoke questions, start conversations, elicit disclosures, and otherwise help people get to know you better. Much more, and they become clutter. Just as you can't see the forest for the trees, so too your treasures don't stand out in multiples. You don't have time to tell 20 or 30 stories; nor does anyone really want to listen to them all (let's be honest!)

This critical association is a first step in separating the wheat from the chaff. Although it's just a molded piece of non-precious metal, no one would doubt the value or meaning inherent in an Academy Award. So if you're fortunate enough to have something like that on your mantle, let's work on opening up a space around him so Oscar doesn't get lost among the lesser items. Similarly, if you have a piece of finely made glassware , a beautiful painting, or a sculpture, these need some room so they can get the focus they (their artists) deserve.

Ask yourself, which of these items would others appreciate enough to bid on were I to sell them at an auction. If you decide you don't want them, you can always do that. For now though, it's just a way of assessing inherent value of an object.

Next ask: Which of these items would a thrift store probably be unable to sell were I to donate it. These are the items we want to focus on purging today.

How to purge:

* If your VARK score registered high in Kinesthetics: DO NOT TOUCH! Either find someone to help you or pull on your heavy duty kitchen gloves. You are most highly susceptible to reforging your emotional bond every time you handle one of these items.

* Are you more Visual? Is this something you could take a Digital Photo of, and save to your hard-drive where you can still see it on demand, but it isn't actually consuming any "space."

* Reading/Writing: Write a journal entry about the process. Better yet, write a short story about the item: it's acquisition, it's meaning, and the process of letting go. Is this an item that you've imbued with meaning because to you it holds the memory of a loved one? Hold on to the story (which takes no room on your hard drive), because it can become an important memento of its own in years to come. Your child might LOVE to hear stories about the clay apple s/he made back in preschool. Other relatives may appreciate receiving an email about those flowers you'd saved from Auntie's funeral until you were ready to let go. You're very likely to hear some great stories in return, that will make you far richer & more fulfilled than a misshapen green lump of dried clay or some crumbling dried flowers.

* Auditory? You probably have less difficulty in this area, and may actually have less clutter to begin with. However, if you are having trouble, take a cue from R/W and make a phone call, or share that memory face-to-face over the beverage of your choice. IMPORTANT: Don't allow yourself save the napkin or other memento of THAT new memory you've created!

Ideas if you can't bear to purge:

* Rotate your collection! Allow yourself a special space or spaces for a Very Limited Number of special pieces. Into what sorts of categories do your memory items fall?
- If you have children, perhaps each one could be represented separately. Do you have enough room to store a bin of other special items in each of their rooms? Maybe just a shoebox? You still have to make some decisions about what to keep & what to part with; however, allowing yourself to keep a set mass of treasures - which can be safely and easily stored out of sight - will make those you display matter much more.
- If you have collections or hobbies, take the same technique and designate some focal area (e.g., a shelf or display case) to highlight just a select few items from that collection.
* Assess seasonal or holiday tie-ins: Many of us have a higher tolerance for ornamentation around the holidays. Can any of your sentimental items be packed away most of the year, and just come out to display during a holiday season? Maybe you really don't want or need to part with the handmade heart made of paper mache and love. Perhaps it could be packed lovingly into a box, and become part of a centerpiece each year from February 1st to the 15th. Footballs and spirit items from your favorite college team can also be packed away from one season to the next. You'll appreciate all these things more if you're not seeing them all the time. You may even save money, because your spirit wear feels new again. You'll be less tempted to invest more money in the buttons, beads, yell cones, etc. each year.