Utilities and the Great Communication Challenge

You’ve heard it before — the customer is always right.

Across many industries, the golden rule for pleasing customers is ensuring they feel well cared for. It’s one of the ways many businesses ensure the loyalty (and advocacy) of those customers to their brand and keep them coming back for more.

Historically, the utility industry has not had to abide by this rule. Customers were going to turn the lights on whether they loved the power company or not, because there wasn’t an option for alternative power, or the notion of managing power differently within our personal and professional spaces.

Enter The Internet of Things, smart homes, connected living and environmental responsibility. These forces have uprooted the way utilities must think, bringing the customer to the forefront of the industry.

Customers are no longer ratepayers, but rateplayers. They look at all the elements and decide what the best move is. They have choices — wind, solar power, ESCOs. They have opinions — the desire for clean energy. They have awareness — the way we use energy impacts the well-being of our world and the ability to control our expenses.

What does it mean for utilities? You have challenges. But also, opportunities.

In the modern world, the utility must rethink its role in society and its strategy for communicating with current and potential customers. As a marketing firm that specializes in energy and sustainability, we’ve worked with many players in the power industry over the years, identifying three strategies that every utility should consider moving forward.

Determine What Motivates Your Customers

We all turn the lights on when we get home, but why? What’s behind the flip of the switch? What else are customers relying on energy for? Many customers use a variety of major appliances and digital devices. Do they use a lot of electricity or a little bit, and why? Are there various times of the day that require a different use of energy? Why?

These may seem like trivial questions, but understanding the relationship between your customers and electricity is the first step to enacting behavior change — and we want customers to think and do things differently — especially when it comes to smart meters.

The smart meter represents an opportunity for the utility to be thought of as a resource and community partner. It enables utilities to learn about customers and use that information to personalize their energy experience. Data alone is not the answer. It’s not enough to simply conduct a survey and find out what people think. It’s about combining that kind of data with other qualitative findings and secondary research to tease out nuggets of gold — insights that lead to powerful and effective communications.

Smart meters provide a window into how consumers use energy, but utilities that go the extra mile to learn why they use energy that way, can unlock new opportunities.

Use Segmentation to Scale and Specify Efforts

Segmentation is more than a means to create desired outcomes among subsets of customers. It must be executed in ways that make the customer segments represent the types of customers (based on demographics, psychographics and electricity usage), not just in one or two areas, but across all service territories.

Segmentation enables you to develop and test marketing and communications messaging and tactics that are customized to different types of customers. And when customers within these segments begin to share more information about themselves, permission-based marketing strategies can allow you to further tailor and personalize information and offers.

Smart meters are just one example of a technological capability to get granular about electricity-consuming devices and systems, and can enable utilities to further segment customers based on usage and behavioral characteristics that are scalable to other regions. Utilities should educate their customers that smart meters can help them personalize and tailor energy plans to fit their unique needs.

Entertain and Engage… with Honesty

Let’s face it: utilities aren’t exactly on the radar when it comes to brands or companies that customers think about or admire. There’s only one way to overcome apathy in a target audience: break through. To do this, utilities can develop and execute creative that is unexpected in the energy-distribution sector.

Take a look at what might stand out in the category. We’ve seen a trend toward intrusive/disruptive guerilla-style events, which can be captured on video and shared aggressively on social media.

A critical component in this strategy must be a constant recognition of latent customer cynicism and low trust for utilities. The creative approach must be believable and fact-based at all times. This is especially true as consumers become more skeptical about how the smart devices within their homes may be monitoring their private lives. For utilities, the conversation about smart meters must also be that they are safe meters.

These strategies can help modernize utilities and inspire customers to want to have a relationship with them. Helping your customers to overcome their challenges (climate concerns, security and privacy, apathy, mistrust and cynicism) can help utilities overcome theirs — working collaboratively, scaling solutions and embracing technology to bring it all together.

Looking for a partner to take the next step? Learn more about our Energy + Sustainability Group and consider reaching out to our team for more information.