Jon Turner, right, of 4-County EPA, Columbus, MS, makes a point during a Distribution Marketplace Forum panel discussion with Cleveland, TN, Utilities’ Jamie Creekmore, left, and Gabe Bolas of Knoxville, TN, UB.

Just before lunch on the last day of the 2018 Distribution Marketplace Forum, attendees got some food for thought as an appetizer.

“Customers today expect a lot,” said John Hazen, senior director for utility practice at J.D. Power. “Five years ago, taxicab owners thought they could never go out of business.

“You’re probably never going to go out of business, but you never know. Here’s your challenge – your customers really like you, but how do you maintain that engagement going forward?” Hazen said.

The 2018 DMF featured nearly three days of presentations on everything from assessing options and opportunities for fiber to branding best practices. TVPPA Executive Vice President Danette Scudder and TVA Senior Vice President Jay Stowe co-emceed, and the roster of presenters included 30 executives representing 24 TVPPA-member utilities.

“I’ve heard a lot of interesting, thought-provoking things the last couple of days,” TVPPA Chairman Greg Williams said as the DMF drew to a close. “I hope you leave here committed to starting one new thing – just one – at your utility.”

In the context of the DMF’s subtitle, “Bringing Innovation Home,” Williams offered attendees three thoughts on how to do that at their utilities.

“First, be bold. Be audacious,” he said. “Second, ask yourselves, ‘What do my customers want and need today?’ I realized that I need to talk to the CEOs of my [commercial/industrial] customers and find out what they need; those customers want us to be their energy experts.

“And third,” Williams said, “ask yourselves, ‘What do my customers want me to be in five or 10 years?’”

The Forum’s closing speaker, Crissy Fanganello, isn’t in the electric-utility business, but she showed that she knows how it rolls.

“All those things that are happening in your world are happening in mine,” said Fanganello, director of transportation and mobility for the city of Denver, CO. “Customers have different visions and needs. We have disruption. We have innovation.

“So how do you deal with change? You’ve got two choices – embrace it or sit back and let it happen to you,” she said. “You can’t do things the way you always have. As we say in Denver, you can’t just cowboy it anymore.”