1. Introduce me to you.
Tell me your company’s big story. Inspire me. Who are you beyond the purveyor of ‘invisible’ electrons?
“Utilities struggle telling the story about how they impact somebody’s life on a day-to-day basis,” said Jeff Adams, ICF senior vice president. “They need to show us the value they bring to the individual and the family.”
Facts and figures, alone, won’t do this. As Nick Morgan, author of the book “Power Cues”, points out in Harvard Business Review, “all the rational things that we think are important in the business world actually don’t stick in our minds at all.” What does stick—and engage people—are compelling stories with a message, in a utility’s case, one that reflects and upholds the values and aspirations of its customers.
2. Watch your language.
In my mind, I'm not a ratepayer—a common term used by utilities. I’m a consumer, community member, student, business owner, healthcare worker, etc. Talk to me, the person, not the bill payer. Electric utilities are highly regulated. For decades much of their important communication has been with state commissions and policymakers. So they tend to fall back on language familiar within only that small universe.
3. Avoid “can’t do” arguments.
Consider how customers reacted in recent consumer focus groups with the Edison Electric Institute. They rejected statements that suggested using 100 percent renewables is technically impossible. But when the idea was reframed in a way that suggested “can-do”—just not right now—they reacted favorably. They liked this phrase:
A balanced energy mix helps us maintain consistent service for our customers and avoids over-reliance on a single fuel type or technology. This means we’re able to bring our customers increasingly more renewable energy without asking them to compromise on reliability or cost.
4. Upsell products that I want.
Make me aware of why it’s best to buy them from my utility—a familiar and trusted expert. Some popular newer products are:
- Green pricing programs
- Community solar
- Smart thermostats
- Electric vehicle chargers
- Energy efficiency devices
5. Be timely.
Catch me when I need a product. For example, don’t try to sell me a more efficient air conditioning system if I just installed one last year. Use data analytics to determine the right time to market to me based on my energy use, age of home, etc.
6. Appeal to my better nature.
Customers increasingly respond to “public good” messages. Millennials, for example, are narrowing the gap between environmental concern and consumer action.
So educate me about why my behavior on the grid influences its overall health and therefore the greater society. If I’m inefficient, it will cost everyone. Position the grid is a shared asset—and a life support system for society.
7. Show me why.
Remember that technology has little meaning to me unless I interact with it. For example, I may not see the point of a smart meter until I can employ time-of-use pricing. Then I see how smart meters allow for clear price signals that enable me to use energy in a way that saves money for my household—and everyone else on the grid.