To help energy providers build better relationships with their customers, we’re sharing a three-part series on What Matters Behind the Meter.

Energy 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.

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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 our three-part series, What Matters Behind the Meter, we’re sharing tips on getting your customers to see you LESS as a power-providing necessary evil, and MORE as an energy-providing lifestyle enhancer. In Part One: Building Affection, we covered the basics of creating meaningful communication with customers by going above and beyond the bill with an approach that inspires customers, rather than infuriating them. In Part Two: Building Relevance, we emphasized the need to truly resonate with customers in order to create strong connections. In our third and final post, we get to the most important element in building relationships with your customers.

Part 3: Building Trust

While utilities are working toward creating better life experiences and improving the world around them, Edelman’s Trust Barometer indicates they will be working against the customer perception that their sole drivers for change center on technology, business growth targets and making more money. What’s more, the trust barometer shows that while 60% of people trust the energy industry as a whole, only 54% trust the utilities sector. That means building trust MUST be a priority for the modern energy provider.

Amp Up the AdviceAmp Up the Advice

Accenture reports that consumer interest for energy-efficient home improvements, home energy audits, home energy devices and bundled energy sources has risen significantly when comparing data from 2012 to 2014. Interest grew by nearly 10% for “products and materials to make simple improvements to your home in order to save electricity,” and “installation and/or maintenance services for home energy devices.” This suggests that consumers have an appetite for tips on how to be more energy efficient, so long as they aren’t too hard to handle.

Utilities can offer suggestions and ideas for consumers to try on their own before presenting more complex solutions down the road. Time the suggestions to seasonal elements (for example, how to save energy and stay cool during a heat wave), or find ways to share tips and advice on a more consistent basis with trending moments. Social media is a great way to pick up on a trending topic or idea that may be aligned with ways to be more energy savvy.

Don't Dim the Details

Don't Dim the Details

Not surprisingly, consumers want their utility to provide thorough real-time information to them during outages. Accenture reports that 32% of consumers want to receive SMS/text messages from their utilities during these times with updates on when electricity, gas or water will be working again. The same report states that 92% of consumers want to receive digital notifications from their utility not just regarding outages, but information on their energy consumption, payments, and service request updates too.

But it’s not just about providing that information, it’s about providing that information easily through the right tools and user experience (on the web, etc.). Utilities will win if they make it simple for customers to access detailed information about their usage and potential service options to optimize the way they use energy.

Light the Path Forward

Light the Path Forward

When it comes to energy sources, consumers have more choices today than ever before. For utilities, building a relationship with consumers is now paramount in today’s world, because we’re getting closer and closer to a time when the utility may become obsolete. In a 2015 article titled “Power to the People,The New Yorker describes the new realities of solar power and lower electrical bills for the average middle class family. The article tells the story of one such family, the Borkowskis, who reduced the footprint of their house by 80% in a matter of days by implementing alternative energy solutions. As stated in the article, “The numbers reveal a sudden new truth — that innovative, energy-saving and energy-producing technology is now cheap enough for everyday use.” Loyalty today isn’t about the customer sticking with the utility — it’s about the utility giving the consumer a reason to choose the utility as an energy provider.

For utilities to make it with modern consumers, they must turn the tables on the traditional relationship they’ve shared with them. Consumers can no longer be thought of as “meters” (as NRG’s CEO David Crane suggests in the aforementioned article), they must be courted and cared for through consistent experiences that build affection, relevance and trust.