To help energy providers build better relationships with their customers, we’re sharing a three-part series on What Matters Behind the Meter.
In its latest research study on energy consumers, Accenture outlines nine characteristics of the new energy consumer — a list that clearly demonstrates we are no longer the “ratepayers” of decades past, or even the friendlier, more human-toned “customers to be served” of these transitional years in the energy industry. The new energy consumer, according to Accenture, now views energy as “more than a commodity — it has become a product, a lifestyle and a service enabler.”
As such, energy providers must start thinking about themselves as purveyors beyond the plug.But how? Creating relationships takes time. For an industry that’s just learning how to court and care for its customers after decades of simply collecting their money, the idea of “providing a lifestyle experience” may seem daunting.
It doesn’t have to be. By applying the principles of EMA’s Brand as Friend® philosophy (wherein we help brands forge meaningful relationships with their customers through nine scientifically proven friendship drivers), energy providers can begin thinking of everyday ways to build affection, relevance and trust with their customers.
In this three-part series, we’ll share some tips on getting your customers to see you less as a power-providing necessary evil, and more as an energy-providing lifestyle enhancer.
Part 1: Building AffectionCompanies in all industries know that listening is a key way to hone in on the wants, needs and desires of their customers. Social media has provided an effective and powerful way to lean in and gather intel straight from the source — but listening is no longer about passively gathering information, it’s about starting the conversations that enable you to hear the right things in order to constantly fine-tune the way you service clients.
Social media can be used to actively explore and develop new ideas around energy. According to Accenture, customers are looking for that conversation — nearly one third of them are interested in following and interacting directly with their providers.Customers have heard the spiel that energy efficiency can save them money on their electric bills, but many remain unmotivated to do anything about it. Utility Dive recently reported on a study noting the impatience consumers have with topics like energy efficiency. An analyst who worked on the study was quoted, “People don’t want a lecture on energy efficiency. They want a road map and a guide. If I just give you a bunch of educational material, chances are you’re going to stop reading it.”
So what’s the alternative? Shut down the homework and power up the fun. As part of a recent study, California utility provider PG&E recruited 51 of its adult customers to play Power House, an online strategy game focused on saving as much energy as possible by performing daily tasks in a virtual home. The result? A 2% decline in household energy use during the game-playing period. While it’s only moderately significant from a statistical standpoint, it’s proof that exciting customers could be more productive than just educating them.The strongest and most reliable piece of communication between the customer and the energy provider is definitely the bill. In a recent study, Opower reported that 79% of households say they read every bill, reviewing it for four to six minutes. It’s not shocking then to know that many utilities try to use this document as a venue to impart more information beyond just the “payment due,” but it might not be the best plan. According to Opower, the bill is also a major source of anxiety for many consumers, particularly for those who receive a higher-than-usual bill with no warning.
Show customers you care by going above and beyond “bill pay.” For example, consider offering additional products and services to customers with a smart meter. According to Accenture, the top three expectations smart meter consumers have are: “Personalized advice on actions I could take to reduce my bill” (58%), “Personalized advice on products and services that I could purchase to help me reduce my bill” (45%), and “Early notifications when my bill might be higher than normal” (41%).
Stay tuned for our second post in the series, on how energy providers can build RELEVANCE with customers.