EEC Perspectives

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.

Read more »

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 »

Retirees: A Utility’s Secret Weapon in the Net Metering Battle

solar panels on houseElectric utilities across the country are getting PR black eyes on rooftop solar and net metering. The Washington Post, The New York Times and countless local news organizations have run articles on this national trend of homeowners putting solar panels on their rooftops. The controversy arises over net metering: what should homeowners pay to maintain the electric grid and preserve the option of taking utility-delivered electricity?

Dozens of electric utilities are in a terrible PR dilemma: How to break the bad news to the public — that they’re neither zeroing out their electric bill nor disconnecting from the grid — without looking like they’re anti-solar power. How did utilities get themselves in this bind and how can they get out of it?

Utilities are losing this PR battle because they brought a knife to a gun fight. The sooner they understand that, the sooner they can begin to recalibrate their marketing tactics, and perhaps recapture lost ground.

For the most part, utilities have not mobilized a critical communications and community relations asset – their retirees. Solar companies, meanwhile, are going door to door, signing up one customer after another. It’s the ultimate retail business model, and the solar guys have been on the offensive. They’re using face-to-face (F2F) marketing on a door-to-door basis. And utilities? Well, they’re playing defense, and not very well. Read more »

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