Creating Customer-Friendly Utility Messages

Here’s an example of clear, customer-friendly messaging: it costs you $1.36 per year to charge your iPad.

Note the simplicity and the customer-centeredness of the message. It doesn’t offer a range, and it doesn’t include a lot of qualifications about utility rates, iPad usage, or number of users in a household.

It may—or may not—be accurate to the fourth decimal point. But it is enough for customers to read it, mentally store it and move on. Worst-case scenario? If the estimate is 10% under or 10% over, that’s a difference of 14 cents per year either way. My son’s car probably has more than that stuck in his car seats; in fact, he probably has way more than $1.36 squirreled away there. The point: this kind of detail is simply not enough to worry about.

So you might ask yourself, how I, as a utility communicator could use this clear, customer-centered message about iPad annual recharging costs in my work?

Check out what one utility did.  Not that long ago, Gulf Power had a communications campaign with the theme, “You get a lot for a little.” The art (below) featured a quarter and a penny as the respective costs to bake a cake and brew a pot of coffee. The art was creative, eye-catching, and easy to understand. The copy point emphasized that electricity was still a great value.

 Utility Communications Messages

Utility Communications Message

Utility communicators I speak with say they continue to struggle with creating (or getting permission to use) easy-to-understand, customer-messages on various topics. Previously on this blog, we have written about ways utility communications could make their work more impactful on a variety of topics, from safety to price changes and Smart Meters.

Utilities that engage in customer-unfriendly communications waste opportunities to build important personal connections to their customers. Those connections lead to greater willingness to believe what the utility says—an important intangible asset that has significant value when the lights go out in a bad weather storm.

Here’s an idea for a customer-centered, easy-to-understand message. For simplicity’s sake, I have discussed electric service in the copy, but the messages could easily be shifted for natural gas utilities.

Open with a shot of a woman at a gas station, taking off the car’s gas cap to refill her vehicle. Cut to a shot of the gas pump showing per-gallon price ($3.50) and total sale ($0.00) before the fill-up begins. The pump dials start spinning. Voice over: “Energy costs are on everyone’s mind these days. But electricity remains a great value here at XYZ Utility. In fact, if you could pump electricity from these gas pumps, you’d already have today’s supply of power. Electricity: Your best energy value.” Cut to driver putting on the gas cap and a close-up of the pump dial showing about one gallon of gasoline pumped and a cost of about $3.50. 

Each week, people pay $50-$75 or more to refill their vehicle with gasoline or diesel. Surely we can use electricity’s favorable out-of-pocket cost comparison with gasoline or diesel to positively position utility service in the minds of consumers.

However, I don’t recommend discussing the value of utility service only in terms of price. Utilities that do this face several potential dangers, which I have discussed on this blog. But people, consciously or unconsciously, DO measure the value and cost of one service in terms of other services. Our job is to find compelling, easy-to-understand art and copy that emphasize how much value customers receive for the relatively small cost they pay.

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