PALM DESERT, Calif.—Even co-op CEOs' lights go out on occasion, but when it happened to Ron Salyer of Pioneer REC, something else occurred.

"My 6-year-old was just flipping out that the power was off for 15, 20 minutes. The whole world stopped," said Salyer. And that got him thinking.

"Take that 6-year-old and let's fast-forward 20 years from now. When she's 26, what's her expectation going to be? It's going to be over the top," said Salyer.

Salyer was part of a CEO Close-Up panel looking at "Managing Technology for Efficiency, Better Decisions and Happier Consumers." And that last part is especially important at his Piqua, Ohio-based co-op, where Salyer makes clear "we're all about the [member] experience."

AMI technology plays a big role. For one thing, instead of members reading their meters, they can now go to an app to see an hourly consumption reading, said Salyer. That makes it easier to figure out when electricity use spiked and why. Rather than argue over the meter reading, the member and the co-op can now talk about the spike in electricity use that might have happened "on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, when the kids were home from college."

And don't forget that social media is technology. Pioneer REC has seen vehicles break 58 poles in the last 12 months. When crews arrive, they send a photo of the broken pole to colleagues who post it to the co-op's Facebook page.

"Immediately, people can get a visual of why it's taking two or three hours" for restoration, said Salyer.

"All this technology is creating so many more positive member experiences."

Broadband is a technology that many members want, and when United Electric Cooperative goes in to wire a community "there's always a competitor," according to CEO Jim Bagley.

"The difference we have is service," Bagley said of his Maryville, Missouri-based co-op. For example, United's call centers are nearby, meaning members might talk to someone they know.

"The local service is what does it," said Bagley. So does the value proposition, with members seeing the advantages of having both electricity and broadband from one place. "It's a bargain all the way around."

For co-ops in areas without broadband, and co-ops not embracing other technology, Bagley offered this blunt assessment: "If there's not broadband, and there's not options to control their power use, people aren't going to continue to live in rural areas."

Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative in Jordan likes to give members "information and options," said CEO Ryan Hentges.

"Information about their usage, and then options, from a program perspective, of how they can interact with us, and to manage their energy use, and to manage their electric bill," said Hentges.

At MVEC, that includes prepaid metering, online access to hourly use data and a Wi-Fi thermostat program.

"Information and options are huge for people, and that's how we differentiate ourselves from others," said Hentges.

Vern Dosch, CEO of the National Information Solutions Cooperative (NISC), said it's proof of how "technology has moved from the back office, to the front office, to the hands of your members."

"They're becoming better educated on their consumption habits and technology has allowed them to engage with your co-op like never before," said Dosch. "And all of that is being facilitated by technology."

You can hear the audio of this CEO Close-Up session on NISC’s website.

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