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Best Practices: Coronavirus Outreach for Energy Utilities

As energy utilities navigate the customer service impacts of the coronavirus outbreak, it’s important to remember that communication is key. Your customers want to hear from you. We have seen an extremely high average open rate of 44.4% on coronavirus communications we’ve deployed for utilities, with the open rate for one campaign reaching over 50%. Now is the time to reach out and reassure customers of your continuing reliability.

As you work to communicate your energy utility’s continuity plans and preparedness, take time to review some best practices we’re seeing across the industry.

1. Timing is everything

It’s best to be proactive when communicating during a crisis. The high open rates we’re seeing demonstrate that customers are eager to hear from their energy utility. Get ahead of their concerns with reassuring messages and explanations of your preparation plans. Don’t wait until there’s a problem to address.

Send email updates now and have a plan in place for SMS/text alerts or other timely messaging if it becomes necessary. Utilize social media, websites and eNewsletters to your utility’s advantage.

2. Safety first

Every coronavirus outreach message we have seen from a utility focuses on ensuring the safety of the utility’s employees, customers and community. Communicating the guidelines and plans you have in place will reassure customers of your utility’s ongoing commitment to safety as a priority.

Some items to address when applicable include:

  • Limiting international and domestic travel for employees
  • Keeping a safe distance between employees and customers if in-home service is needed
  • Rescheduling in-home services if the customer is feeling ill or is under quarantine
  • Closing walk-in centers
  • Encouraging customers to use their online My Account or mobile app for immediate needs

3. Services will not be impacted

Utilities are recognizing that customers may experience financial hardships as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. With this in mind, utilities are temporarily suspending service disconnections for non-payment and are putting late-fee forgiveness programs into place; customers can arrange for payment extensions and agreements through their My Account. Utilities are also providing links to financial assistance and payment programs in their coronavirus-related messaging.

In addition, utilities are reassuring customers that they do not foresee any impact to energy services. Utilities are sharing emergency and business continuity plans that ensure power will remain on for customers despite any increased prevalence of the outbreak. If weather-related outages occur during the outbreak, lineworkers will continue to be hard at work to restore power as quickly as possible.

4. Clear, straightforward messaging

Do not add any “fluff” into crisis communications. Customers simply want to know what your utility is doing to ensure their power stays on and what further communications they can expect. Keep consistent messaging through emails, eNewsletters, social media, SMS alerts and website content.

Reassure customers that your utility has a plan in place and is fully prepared to keep the power on during any crisis. Continue to share with them:

  • Your commitment to ensuring safe and reliable power
  • Outage preparation plans and explanations of restoration plans
  • Advice from the CDC to prevent the spread of the infection
  • Business continuity planning for the pandemic

5. Email list and deliverability tips

Don’t be surprised if you see an impact to your delivery rate with coronavirus-related campaigns. We have seen an average delivery rate of 96.7% (and one as low as 65.0%) for outbreak messages, far below Questline’s benchmark deliverability rate of 98.8%.

Crisis communications sends present several challenges to deliverability. Internet service providers look for consistent volume and an engaged subscriber list, but these sends often go to very large lists that may not be used regularly. This is seen as a spike in volume and will present deliverability hurdles at many ISPs.

For that reason, consider using a marketing mailstream instead of a transactional mainstream for outbreak-related communications, even though public health or reliability messages could be considered transactional. Transactional mainstreams typically handle very little volume; a sudden spike will result in higher rate limiting and block bouncing. Your transitional list may be larger than your marketing email list due to opt-outs, but that gain will be negated by the bounces and filtering caused by a spike in volume.

Likewise, expect lower click-through-rates for these messages. Customers are eager to hear from their utility, but they want the relevant information included in the email, without requiring further clicks. Make sure you include important details within the message.

Be there for customers with effective coronavirus outreach

These are only some of the themes we’ve seen from successful coronavirus outreach strategies among our utility partners. Continue to be a source of open communication and advice for customers and you will see engagement and trust build throughout the crisis.

Download Questline’s digital marketing tip sheet, “Best Practices: Coronavirus Communications.”