We all know utilities exist in a unique business setting – different from retailers, airlines and financial service providers. But even within the utility industry, some companies have found a way to do some things better than others. And some have found out – often the hard way – that the traditional ways don’t work so well anymore. EEC has conducted best practice research into a wide range of issues, including utility communications, marketing, customer satisfaction and stakeholder engagement.
Messaging with Interactive Videos
• Beating Peak Electric Demand, and Severe Weather with Apogee Interactive Videos — Apogee Interactive, Inc., 2017
• Driving Member Satisfaction, and Lowering Costs with Personalized Video Messaging — Apogee Interactive, Inc., 2017
What’s the most cost-effective way to communicate with a readily changing customer base? Benton Rural Electric Association retained EEC in 2013 to help determine how it could get more bang for its communications buck. Take a look at the project case study here.
Have utilities quantified the benefits of top-quartile customer satisfaction? What about the financial consequences of bottom-quartile performance. Contracted with EEC in 2013 to conduct detailed interviews and crunch the data.
Digital Meter Messaging
“Smart meters” became a toxic term around 2010. For utilities deploying advanced electronic meters, that was a problem. The Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB) asked EEC to find out what terms and channels utilities were using to communicate with customers and defuse public concern over digital meters.
Here are some representative samples of John’s work in best practice research published as part of a syndicated research & advisory service.
A dizzying number of solutions providers compete for brainshare among potential utility clients. Often these companies have great ideas and innovative approaches, but they need something extra to break through the informational clutter. Positioning these solutions providers requires a thorough knowledge of the touchpoints that connect them with their utility audience.
EEC helps solutions providers with placing news articles, writing press releases, developing more compelling messaging, ghost-writing articles and securing conference speaking opportunities.
Below are some samples.
• “Navigating the Future of Power Plant Operations”
• “Power Generation: U.S. Power Industry 2018 Forecast”
Governments draw their legitimacy from the consent of those they govern. So states the Declaration of Independence. Fast-forward from 1776 and we see the same dynamic governing the utility industry. Small groups of disaffected customers have used targeted action to force unwanted change on utilities. Is that a risk you want to take? EEC can help utilities stay aligned with their customers on controversial issues like digital meters or price increases.
• What’s the most cost-effective way to communicate with a rapidly changing customer base? Benton Rural Electric Association retained EEC in 2013 to help determine how it could cost-effectively reach a specific set of customers while getting more overall bang for its communications buck. Read the project case study here.
• “Increasing the Perceived Value of Our Service” – SPARK! (May 2008)
• “Creativity Cuts Cost of Connecting with Utility Customers” – EEC Blog (October 2012)
Price Increase Communications
• “Communicating Price Increases” – presentation at Chartwell Web Conference (2010)
• “Making Energy Real in Your Utility Communications” – EEC Blog (December 2011)
• “Wait! Before You Raise Rates…Strategic Steps to Take Prior to Raising Residential Energy Prices” – E source Executive Summary (2007)
• “Tactical Tips for Communicating Utility Price Increases” – E source Executive Summary (2007)
For decades utilities referred to their customers as “meters” or “ratepayers.” Those terms are still used by utilities today, though with less frequency. As technical, internally focused organizations, utilities often have trouble communicating effectively with customers and other external stakeholders who don’t know a kilowatt from a kilowatt-hour. Getting and keeping your customers’ confidence by speaking their language is valuable. Through its consulting, speaking, research and blogposts, EEC is helping utilities speak more plainly to their customers.
• “Smart meters” became a toxic term around 2010. For utilities deploying advanced electronic meters, that was a problem. The Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB) asked EEC to find out what terms and channels utilities were using to communicate with customers and defuse public concern over digital meters.
• “SUCCESful Utility Messaging” - EEC Blog (2013)
• "What Are (Our) Words Worth?" - EEC Blog (2013)
• The Power of Words - Presentation at Missouri River Energy Services Technology Days Conference (2013)
• "Creating Customer-Friendly Utility Messages" - EEC Blog (2012)
• “EPA Compliance: Explaining the Alphabet Soup” - Presentation, SNL Energy Webinar (2011)
• “Winning Customers Hearts & Minds by Managing Their Perceptions” - E source (2008)
Many if not most utilities rely on customer satisfaction as an external market verdict on internal business processes. Utility CSAT has more varieties than Baskin Robbins has flavors, but it all comes down to whether or not customers feel the value they receive is equal to or greater than the number of dollars they send the utility each month. Communications can account for about 20% of a utility CSAT score, and those scores could translate into meaningful financial penalties or rewards. With so much riding on your utility’s CSAT, don’t you want to know how you match up against market leaders?
• ICF Engagement on Customer Satisfaction Have utilities quantified the benefits of top-quartile customer satisfaction? What about the financial consequences of bottom-quartile performance. ICF contracted with EEC in 2013 to conduct detailed interviews and crunch the data.
• “How Does Utility Customer Satisfaction Affect Financial Returns”, EMACs Conference presentation (2009)
• “Boosting Your CSAT Scores with Better Communications”, E source Executive Summary
• “Utility Customer Satisfaction: A Faith-Based Initiative?” Managing Power (2009)
Utilities and energy companies often find out the hard way what “stakeholder engagement” is and why they should care, and it’s usually when a proposal or project runs into a buzzsaw of public opposition leading to project delays, operational problems and spiraling costs.
Utilities and energy companies operate in a business environment where they need the support of their stakeholders to succeed at strategic initiatives such as building a power plant, siting a transmission line, drilling a well or deploying advanced digital meters. All of those activities can impact your customers, your employees and members of the community. Your success – or lack thereof – will be closely watched by your regulators, the news media, public opinion leaders, your strategic partners and your investors.
ECC Has Helped Clients Engage More...
EEC has helped clients engage more productively with their stakeholders in a variety of ways. For one client, it was rewriting the website to highlight investments in wind power, counter misperceptions about its actions, and positioning it as a trusted resource steward.
For another client, it was researching how utilities were using different terms and value propositions to describe advanced digital meter installations, so they could more effectively position their desired deployment. EEC helped a third client conduct more effective public outreach by rewriting and bite-sizing information on its website.
Best-practice companies don’t view stakeholder engagement as a one-off, episodic activity, something to be rolled out after an initiative runs aground. Wise companies work to engage their stakeholders on an ongoing basis, to maintain trust and strengthen favorable public perception. Doesn’t it make more business sense to make small investments today instead of large ones in the future?
• "Engaging Utility Stakeholders: A Matter of When, Not If” - EEC Views on the News (2010)
• “Who’s On Top – Shareholders or Stakeholders” - EEC Blog (2012)
• “Shale Gas PR Problems and a Company’s ‘License to Operate’” - Industrial Info Resources (2011)
• “How’s That Employee Engagement Project Working?” - EEC Blog (2013)
Utility and energy issues are complex, unique even, with nuances and needs that are distinct from financial service companies, software providers or big-box retailers. Why do you want to spend your time and money teaching a communications generalist about your business? Do you enjoy rewriting (and rewriting, and rewriting) copy produced by your agency or contract writer?
You may need someone who speaks your industry’s language and can hit the ground running, ready to produce copy with no learning curve.
EEC has 25 years of expertise in the energy industry, as a reporter, spokesman, marketer, research director and consultant — we know the difference between CSAPR and Casper!
Digital Meters and Advanced Grid
“Smart meters” became a toxic term around 2010. How could this new communications reality affect utility messaging around advanced digital meter deployments? The Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB) asked EEC to find out.
Electric utilities have had some successes and some shortfalls in communicating about advanced digital meters. Oil & gas companies have met with similarly mixed success in communicating about hydraulic fracturing. Both industries can learn from the successes and mistakes of the other.
• “Fracking and Smart Meters: What Oil & Gas Companies Can Learn from Electric Utilities (and Vice Versa)” – presentation for EUCI Conference (2012)
Energy Efficiency Marketing
Electric and gas utilities are making large investments in customer programs to ensure customers make wise energy choices. Once the programs are developed, and before their results are verified, utilities need to market those programs – develop high-impact messages, create customer-friendly art, and explore non-traditional channels. EEC can help your utility hit its regulatory targets!
• “Fixing Your Marketing Problems with a Customized Utility Efficiency Marketing Plan”, EMACS Workshop (2009)
• “Ding Dong: Energy Services Calling”, E source Executive Summary (2010)
• “Say Goodbye to Drafty Walls”, OUC Connections (2011)
Social media is changing the world – for some industries. But that’s not yet true for utilities. The challenges of two-way communication with customers are proving to be more difficult and time-consuming than expected. Still, some utilities have managed to create value and build bridges with the adroit use of social media.
• “Social Media: Changing How We Communicate”, white paper for Priority Integrated Marketing (2010)
• “Social Media: What Are Utility Communicators Doing?”, APPA Customer Connections Conference (2010)
- Redding Electric Utility (CA)
- EWEB (OR)
- Florida Power & Light (FL)
- ICF International (VA)
- Benton REA (WA)
- EnergyCentral (CO)
- Versify Solutions