Focus on Customers
David W. Wade, P. E., President, RDA Engineering, Inc.
Editor’s Note: “Members Speak Out” runs
regularly in District Energy magazine. Its
purpose is for a member to briefly share
his/her district energy experiences and
opinions – and obtain feedback from fellow
members. Please email comments to David
Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As 2011 comes to a close, there just doesn’t seem to be much good news. The Deficit Reduction
Committee is deadlocked, European sovereign debt is in question, the stock market
continues to sink lower, and the U. S. economic predictions are for low to almost no
growth. All of these situations are beyond
our industry’s control. We are forced to ride
the economic waves like a Styrofoam float.
Hopefully, district heating and cooling
providers can use this down time to improve
efficiencies, sharpen management tech-
niques and renew capital equipment for use
in the future. Now is also an important time
to focus on customers. Customers are our
reason for existing. Whether the customers
are businesses in a downtown area, hospital
buildings in a medical complex or university
buildings, it is their energy needs that are
provided by district heating and cooling.
Other auxiliary services you can consider
are sub-billing of tenants, a flat billing
scheme which helps customers’ cash flow
or budgeting, energy management services, special fuel adjustment riders, and
re-negotiation of contracts for long-term
service and amortization of special capital
equipment needs. Consideration of smart
meters for all or selected customers could
be an attractive ”add-on.” Remember
that bundling of services can provide a
unique advantage that is not offered by
other utilities or that cannot be topped by
energy service companies seeking to steer
your customers to performance contracts.
I relate a conversation I had many
years ago with marketing representatives
of a major electric utility. I asked how
they were successful in retaining their
customers in the face of deregulation.
The response was, “We use the Velcro
approach to marketing.” This meant they
got close to their customers and stuck to
them so that they knew what their customers were considering and were always
able to present attractive alternatives.
Let’s not forget why we are in business
and be cognizant that times are changing.
District energy providers can offer a variety
of services in a win-win arrangement for
both customers and the utility.
David W. Wade, PE,
is president of RDA
Engineering Inc. in Atlanta
and has been an IDEA
member for more than
25 years. He has served
on IDEA’s board and is
a past chair of ASHRAE’s national technical
committees dealing with building steam
and hot water systems and district heating
and cooling. Wade may be reached at
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