EEC Perspectives

Customer Communications: Reaching Customers’ Brains Through Their Hearts

Credit: Energy News Network

“Poles and wires are boring, but people are interesting,” a utility communicator once told me. I agree completely: The best way to feed your audience, especially customers, the information you want them to know is to embed it in a compelling story focusing on people. Whether it’s still or video photography, the image draws the audience (customers) in and carries the weight of the story. Once an image connects to an audience member’s (customer’s) heart, their ears are more likely to hear the words that explain and support the image. This applies to utility customer communications in so many ways.

You could think of it as feeding sugar-coated broccoli to your children or inserting your dog’s heart-worm medication in a glob of peanut butter. It may sound a little sneaky, but it works. Ask any parent or dog owner. Julie Andrews sang about this in “Mary Poppins”: “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down in the most delightful way.”

It’s a point worth considering by utility communicators and marketers who want to communicate more effectively with customers. Living as they do in fact-rich environments, filled with information about kilowatt-hours, volts, amps, circuit-miles of wire, emissions, cubic yards of cement, therms and hundred cubic feet of water, practitioners can be tempted to rely on facts, rather than peoples’ stories, when communicating with or marketing to customers.

This is especially true when it comes to complicated or technical issues like prices, pollution, energy efficiency, environmental regulation or energy efficiency.

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Better Public Speaking: 6 Tips, 6 Sins and 1 Golden Rule

Does the photo look familiar? It might. I used it five years ago to illustrate this blog post on how to become a more effective public speaker. I attended several industry conferences earlier this year and found the same public speaking sins were still being committed that caused me to write this piece back then.

Hope springs eternal. We’re just about to enter the fall conference season, and you may have secured a speaking slot at an energy conference. Do not be afraid!  You were selected for a reason — probably that you are a subject-matter expert on a particular issue. But mastery of a field counts for little if you can’t persuasively convey that to an audience. We hope you can use some of these helpful hints for public speaking when it’s your turn to stand at the microphone.

My brain was under assault. Productive thought had long since vanished. I stopped taking notes two hours ago. More coffee was out of the question — my eyes already were twitching from too much caffeine. My mind wandered. In three hours I knew I would be at a baseball game with my family — but how would I pass the time until then? I couldn’t escape by playing with my mobile device because it couldn’t get a signal. I’m not actually in this photo, but I could have been.

I left the conference feeling drained and disappointed. It had been a disaster — two days of my life I will never get back. What happened? The conference focused on energy industry issues I knew were important. The session descriptions piqued my interest. The speakers boasted solid credentials. I had secured a complimentary registration, so my disappointment wasn’t a question of buyer’s remorse.

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Utility Communications: How to Stay Out of the “Smart-Talk” Trap


When was the last time you did a 540°?

What hill are you willing to die on?

Have you ever used “architect” as a verb?

Do you have enough bandwidth to growth-hack the analytics?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may have fallen into The Smart-Talk Trap. Some organizations reward people for sounding smart rather than being smart (or getting things done). People pursue (or attain) the perception of being smart by sprinkling the latest buzzwords, jargon or acronyms into their conversations (see Dilbert cartoon below). “Smart talk” people are betting no one in their audience is willing to raise their hand and say, “I’m sorry, what does that mean in plain English?”

DILBERT © 2015 Scott Adams. Used by permission of UNIVERSAL UCLICK. All rights reserved.

Utility Communications Can Fall Prey to Smart-Talk Trap

Although “smart talk” may be less prevalent in utilities compared to technology companies or consultancies, I suspect no business is immune. As Jerry Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton, co-authors of the HBR “Smart-Talk Trap” article, wrote:

We found that a particular kind of talk is an especially insidious inhibitor of organizational action: “smart talk.” The elements of smart talk include sounding confident, articulate, and eloquent; having interesting information and ideas; and possessing a good vocabulary. But smart talk tends to have other, less benign components: first, it focuses on the negative, and second, it is unnecessarily complicated or abstract (or both). In other words, people engage in smart talk to spout criticisms and complexities. Unfortunately, such talk has an uncanny way of stopping action in its tracks. That’s why we call this dynamic the smart-talk trap.

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