EEC Perspectives

Important Lessons for Utilities from Presidential Candidates and Football Teams


We’re still a year away from the 2016 presidential election, but I’m ready for it to be over. The non-stop, clown-car cacophony of debates, news cycles, spin, polls, charges, counter charges, and breathless (sometimes brainless) commentary about who’s up and who’s down today has worn me out.

I have no partisan loyalties and I’m not energized by any of the candidates. Amidst the blather and bluster of this presidential campaign, I see several important lessons for utility communicators and marketers.

Three particular non-partisan lessons jump out at me:

  • Distrust dies hard (e.g., Hillary Clinton)
  • People are still mad as hell (e.g., Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders)
  • You have to be liked before you will be heard (e.g. Ben Carson)

Today, I will focus on distrust dying hard. Stay tuned for my take on the other topics in the near future.

Origins of Distrust

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has a trust problem. Duh. And thinking about her trust problem reminded me of a verbatim comment I once heard from a customer of a large Southwestern utility: “I’ve always hated you – I don’t know why, I just did.”

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Tips from Your Peers for Talking About Price Increases

I’ve blogged and spoken a lot about utility price increase communications this year, largely because utility communicators and marketers said it was their top strategic challenge for 2015. Today, I’d like to share some insights and recommendations three utility communicators made at a recent industry conference.

man standing upCommunicating electric price increases is a confusing and emotional process, and it’s one that will be taking place on a regular basis for years to come, communicators told a conference organized by the Northwest Public Power Association (NWPPA) Sept. 14 in Lake Tahoe. The continued salience of this issue is why I’m glad conference organizers added that session to their event.

Just because your electric prices may be low doesn’t mean people won’t be upset when you try to raise them, Sarah Rossi, customer relations & services manager for Oregon’s  Clatskanie PUD, told attendees. “I’ve had a single mother with three kids telling me, ‘I hope you can sleep tonight knowing that my kids are going to bed hungry because of what you’re doing.’ “

When confronted by angry customers, Rossi said, you need to meet them where they are and calm them down because they’re the ones most likely to broadcast their anger over social media. Showing empathy is important, as is being clear and consistent.

Communications Tip of the Month: Rather than focusing on the customers who represent the extremes of the customer satisfaction spectrum, communicators should focus on the mass of the public that is undecided. If you can reach them with a crisp, clear, compelling explanation of why your electric prices and bills are going up, you will have done your job.

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You May be Speaking, But are They Listening?

handheld phone

“This is the most important tool you will ever use,” a crusty editor (is there another kind?) told me on my first day as an energy reporter almost 30 years ago. Holding the handset of a landline telephone, he continued, “Most people don’t know how to use this properly. If you do, you can beat our competitors. If you don’t, you’ll soon be working for them.”

OK, that was an upbeat introduction to the world of journalism circa 1988. And yes, back in the late 1980s, when I became a reporter, we used landline phones that looked like that. Back then, the fax machine was the bright shiny new thing in office communications technology.

Communications Then and Now

So why are we going down memory lane this month? The flashback to my early days as a reporter at The Energy Daily was triggered by two recent exchanges (one in person, one over the phone).

In a communications workshop I recently led, one participant, a Baby Boomer like me, said she was having trouble communicating with her younger staff, some of whom were Millennials born in the 1990s.

hands and cell phonesThose younger employees didn’t like face-to-face meetings, the manager said. If they needed to hear something, they preferred a text first, then an email, then a phone call, then an in-person visit from their boss, in that order. Full-on members of the digerati, they wanted to be communicated with in ways that felt most comfortable to them. Read more »

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