As some of us adjust to the new “normal” emerging from the coronavirus outbreak, many people are finding themselves in financial situations that they’ve never experienced before. To assist the 30 million Americans who have filed for unemployment since the outbreak began, supportive and reassuring communications from energy utilities are essential.
On April 30, Questline Digital President Dave Reim held the fourth town hall forum in association with DEFG CEO Jamie Wimberly. The conversation focused on strategies and solutions for vulnerable customers in crisis. Panelists David Conn from Baltimore Gas & Electric (BG&E) and Danny Johnson from Georgia Power weighed in on the discussion from energy utility perspective. Brian Lindamood, Questline Digital’s VP of Marketing & Content Strategy, led a discussion on what messaging is appropriate and necessary to communicate to customers during this time.
A common thread
Between Johnson and Conn, some key programs that both utilities were implementing included:
- Suspending service disconnection for customers
- Waiving late payment fees
- Waiving service reconnection fees
- Restoring service to those disconnected before the moratorium began
- Flexible payment options
Johnson noted that Georgia Power’s top concern right now is listening to their community and their customers. The energy utility is partnering with community organizations to help those facing food insecurity, homelessness and others who have been adversely affected by furloughs or business shutdowns.
Conn said BG&E is heavily promoting assistance programs through multiple means of communications, including earned media (news coverage), website content, emails, direct mail, text messages and outbound calls. The utility has also launched specific campaigns to reach customers who may be eligible for financial assistance but have not yet applied.
The coronavirus pandemic is drastically affecting everyone in some way. Those who have never before needed financial assistance are finding that they now do, but don’t know where to turn for resources. Those who have used assistance in the past are looking for even more tools. Wimberly said now is the time to “not just rethink who we are talking to, but how.”
Be proactive in identifying who your utility is trying to help and support alternative business methods if it’s in the best interest of your customers. Your utility needs various options to fit different customers’ needs and now is the time to focus on that.
Of the tactics to consider at your utility to ensure customer needs are met, Wimberly says to focus on these top five:
- Eliminate or waive all fees; put convenience fees into base rates
- Self-certification, proactive qualification and auto-enrollment for energy assistance
- Free up security deposits with alternative policies and/or new solutions to cover the default risks
- Daily/incremental billing
New customers in need
A key message that Questline Digital consistently relays to utilities is that customers want to hear from them, especially now. The average open rate we are seeing for coronavirus-related emails is 40.4% — 50% higher than the Questline Digital benchmark. More than 75% of customers who opened one coronavirus email also opened follow-up messages.
Lindamood reinforced that communication during this time is critical, specifically with reassuring and supportive messaging. When communicating to this new segment of customers, remember:
- These customers have never applied for assistance — they will have a lot of questions
- Be proactive — set an email campaign that is triggered as soon as a payment is late or missed
- Be clear and consistent — and make payment and assistance information easy to find
Communicate proactively and supportively to these newly vulnerable customers and help each other power through to the end of the outbreak.