Smart Meter installations require a revised approach and new skill sets compared to existing meter installs. A whole new range of skills needs to be used, and the utility deploying smart meters must take steps to equipment its field teams. Very few people out there have electrical, gas safety and communications qualifications, and it’s unlikely that a utility will find them amongst their existing staff.
Therefore, a full training programme for installation engineers needs to be put in place before a smart meter rollout can commence. This is a tricky balance to get right. Do utilities train an engineer in multiple tasks, put more engineers in a single van, or make multiple appointments at the same premises to complete all the necessary work? The answer depends on several factors. Some utilities put the needs of the installation engineers above all other requirements – the engineer is trained to do a single task, and not deviate from that process. However, allowing the installation engineer some flexibility on site means that the utility can be flexible in the technology options they adopt. For example, if installation is in an area of no communications coverage, then empowering the engineer to move the install site or use an alternative technology means a better customer experience and a lower install cost due to less return visits. Conversely, the ability to put multiple skills in the same van is difficult to co-ordinate and may mean that a simple, scripted installation process by one engineer with no flexibility is easier to achieve.
Ultimately, for the majority of time that an engineer is on a customer premises, they will have their head in the hole where the meters lie. However, this doesn’t change the fact that the first interaction that a homeowner is likely to have with their new smart meter is via the installation engineer, so they need to not just be qualified, but a customer facing resource as well. Small things can make a big difference to the homeowner – arriving on time, being able to answer any questions or concerns on site and cleaning up after installation all go a long way to ensuring the customer is happy with their smart meter, and through association, their energy provider.
In short, smart meter installation engineers are the face of the deployment programme – they are who the customer interacts with, and a source of immediate knowledge on cutting energy consumption. These engineers need to be selected and trained carefully, as the success of a rollout could hinge on the first impression they give.