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How COVID-19 Transformed Email Communications

As we look back at energy utility communications in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic has had a massive influence in the way consumers engage with email.

While the pandemic’s impact has been devastating, it has reinforced the value of establishing strong relationships with your customers. It also emphasizes the importance of reaching out during key moments throughout the customer journey.

We’ve identified three different phases of communication during the crisis and analyzed customer responses during each. These phases each spanned different time intervals as customer concerns and interests evolved over the course of the pandemic: Crisis Communications, Transition to a New Normal and ongoing Post-Crisis Communications.

First, let’s level-set by looking at January and February email activity right before the pandemic:

  • At the beginning of 2020, program promotions emails were performing slightly better than 2019 year-over-year (YoY), with a 1.4% increase in open rate and 0.6% increase in click-through rate (CTR). The unsubscribe rate was up 0.6% YoY.  
  • eNewsletters, though flat in open rate, experienced 24% higher CTR.

Phase 1: Crisis Communications

During the initial weeks of the pandemic in March, the focus of communications was solely on providing essential COVID-19 resources, including what customers could expect from their energy utility. Nearly half of these emails were opened by their target audience. During this relatively short period of time, most energy utilities paused marketing campaigns. Though some eNewsletters were paused or delayed, those containing coronavirus-related content reached record open numbers. You can learn more about this early period of time here.

  • eNewsletters outperformed YoY open rate by 69% and CTR by 134%

Phase 2: Transition to a New Normal

In April, energy utilities struck the right tone between continuing to inform customers about what to expect from them during the pandemic and re-introducing program promotions. Most of these promotions were well received.

The result: One in four customers opened promotional emails during this new normal. Content and eNewsletters with coronavirus-related content continued to have higher engagement rates than those without this timely information. Further breakdowns of promotional messages sent during this time can be found here.

  • The program promotion open rate in April 2020 outperformed April 2019 by 18%.
  • CTR was up 27% and the unsubscribe rate decreased 62%.
  • eNewsletter open rate was up 16% with a 40% higher CTR.

Phase 3: Post-Crisis Communications

Though the coronavirus crisis is by no means over, energy utilities have now established their plan and set expectations for ongoing communications with their customers. Starting in the middle of May through July, marketing communications received unprecedented levels of engagement.

  • Promotional messages in May-July had an open rate of 26.4% and a CTR of 1.7%. This is up 9% and 62% YoY, respectively.
  • The unsubscribe rate is down 36%.
  • eNewsletters (May-July) experienced an open rate of 25% and CTR of 2.1%. This is up 22% and 27%.

These communications are a prime example of building relationships through hardships. No two customers are alike, but all customers experience certain moments during their journey when they look for reassurances and resources from brands they trust. This has been especially true during the pandemic.

As this difficult time has reinforced, the way energy utilities communicate during a crisis can have long-lasting effects on customer relationships.

To learn more, download Questline’s eBook, “How COVID-19 Transformed Customer Communications.”