“You say ‘po-TA-to,’ I say ‘po TAH-to.’ You say ‘to-MA-to,’ I say ‘to-MAH-to.’ ”
That’s the kind of word game more and more utilities are playing these days. It’s a game I expect most will lose, mainly because utilities and their customers are not using a common vocabulary.
Changes in prices — mainly increases but sometimes decreases — will be one of the biggest utility communications challenges this year, according to EEC’s soon-to-be-released Juggling Chainsaws: 2017 Survey of Utility Communicators and Marketers.
On the primacy of price-related communications, the 2017 survey results mirror the results of the 2015 EEC survey, Budgets, Gadgets & Price Increases. Given the large investments utilities are making in infrastructure, environmental cleanup and other matters, we expect this trend will continue for the next several years.
Four Tips for Communicating Prices (Not Rates)
When I write, speak or consult on utility communications, specifically pricing communications, I strongly recommend:
1. Use the word, “prices,” not “rates,” to describe the cost of electricity or gas.
2. Don’t get caught up in the specific price per kilowatt-hour or therm, which few people really understand.
3. Clearly state the dollars and cents impact of a price change to the monthly bill.
4. Include messaging about how customers could offset some or all of the per-unit price increase. For example, “The price of electricity is going up 5% in 2017, about $6.00 per month for the average residential customer, but customers can reduce or offset the impact to their bill by enrolling in one or more of our energy-efficiency programs.”
It’s been a hard slog convincing utilities to use a customer-friendly term like “prices” instead of “rates.” At least one public power general manager is all too personally aware of the dangers of using the wrong word in the wrong setting. We detail his unfortunate missteps below.