Whether you’re joining a cheese of the month club or signing up with a new video streaming service, you’re sure to receive some kind of welcome message.

Whether that message will be helpful or worthy of the trash bin is to be determined. You might not be wowed by the content (or find it very helpful), but it will be in your inbox waiting for you.

Some energy customers find their welcome experience to be similarly lackluster when starting service. But what if that welcome was truly valuable?

What Should Your Welcome Message for Customers Include?

A new utility customer will need to be informed of many things. Your utility will want to provide answers to common questions and guide them through an optimal customer journey.

But be careful not to overwhelm your audience. You can’t effectively answer all questions at once. A single email with “link soup” will make for a complex customer experience.

Instead, prioritize what you need customers to know or do first.

How many emails in a Welcome Series

Most marketers send just one welcome email, but Questline Digital data shows three to five email messages is best.

Going beyond five emails in a Welcome Series tends to result in lower open rates for later sends. If you need to include more than five emails, make sure important information like billing options, outage alerts and My Account setup are frontloaded in your communications.

Pro tip: Consider numbering the emails in the subject line or header (for example, first of four-part series) so subscribers know to look out for the subsequent messages.

How often to send welcome messages

The cadence of your welcome emails shouldn’t overwhelm customers or be drawn out. We recommend sending an email every two to three days or once every week. This frequency keeps your utility top of mind but doesn’t bombard customers.

Additionally, it’s important to send the first email of your welcome series within 24 hours of account setup. If possible, reduce lag time to 10 minutes or less from the time of the service signup. Given the multitude of other marketing messages competing for consumers’ attention, you’ll want your welcome message for customers to hit inboxes while your utility is still top of mind.

What to include in your welcome message for customers

Within your series of messages, it’s essential to answer commonly asked questions, point to available resources and prompt customers with actions you want them to take.

An example Welcome Series could look like:

  • Email #1 – Welcome and community message
  • Email #2 – Instructions on how to set up My Account preferences
  • Email #3 – Explanation of billing options
  • Email #4 – Prompts to sign up for eNewsletters and/or programs
  • Email #5 – Resources to help you save energy

Case Study: Optimizing Welcome Messages for Customers

Questline Digital worked with an energy utility client to develop and send a new residential Welcome Series. One year later, we took a deep dive into the performance metrics to see how we could enhance the series to achieve even greater engagement.

We found that how many emails in a Welcome Series matters, and so does the cadence of information. With small tweaks, customer communications can be optimized. Let’s take a look.

Year One Welcome Series

Six emails sent to residential customers starting new electric service:

  1. Storm and outage resources
  2. Sign up for our energy utility newsletter
  3. Explore our My Account resources
  4. Tools to help you manage your energy bill
  5. Tips to reduce your bill
  6. Resources to help you save energy

Overall Open Rate: 32.9%

Overall Click-to-Open Rate (CTOR): 26.6%

Year Two Welcome Series

Five emails sent to residential customers starting new electric service:

  1. Explore our My Account resources
  2. Storm and outage resources
  3. Sign up for our energy utility newsletter
  4. Billing payment options
  5. Resources to help you save energy

Overall Open Rate: 41.7%

Overall CTOR: 31.7%

By looking at the overall email content, design and key messages, our team determined:

How many emails in a Welcome Series matters

Five emails were more effective than six. Emails five and six from the original series were comparable, with both offering savings tips and resources. In the revamped series, only one savings email was sent.

Less content was more

In the first series, each email was jam-packed with links, images and multiple messages, which could have distracted from the main point and call to action. In the updated series, supporting content was pared down and the visual design was refined.

New branding elements could be easily incorporated

The energy utility had recently refreshed its branding, making this Welcome Series a perfect place to include new identity requirements. There was also an opportunity to add links that connected customers to new website content.

The customer journey needed a little guidance

While much of the content was similar from the first series to the second, the order of those messages shifted. For example, the original series began with a message about storm alerts and outage resources. In comparison, the second series opened with a message about taking control of one’s utility account — a topic of much higher interest to a new customer.

By restructuring the order and number of emails and adjusting the content, the second Welcome Series was able to better connect with customers, boosting the open rate by nearly 27% and driving 19% more engagement.

With careful planning, thoughtful strategy and inspiring writing and design, you can achieve real results. As our data demonstrates year after year, crafting a series of welcome messages for customers can set the stage for a long, strong relationship.

Welcome new customers to your utility with a proven Welcome Series solution from Questline Digital.

Whether it’s hurricanes, high winds, extreme heat or cold, every utility faces its own set of weather-related issues that can leave customers in the dark. More energy companies are using social media in their outage communications plans to reassure customers and share updates.

But some utilities may be wondering about the best practices in outage communications – are they posting the right information, at the right time, on the right channels, or even reaching the right customers.

Social media is an absolute must-have in our digital world. Customers will often visit your energy utility’s social media pages to find answers to questions or updates on service information before they ever click through to your website. This is why it’s important your social media is built up with appropriate links, FAQs and posts with relevant information that have your customers in mind.

When it comes to communicating outages, social media is your utility’s best friend. It allows you to provide quick updates so customers aren’t left in the dark. Continue reading for best practices in outage communications and examples.

What are outage communications?

Outage communications are an essential part of any energy utility’s marketing and communications strategy. When the power goes out, customers need answers. They look to your energy utility for explanations, details and estimated restoration times, in addition to safety and security protocols.

In the past, best practices in outage communication may have centered around emails, phone calls or even fax. Now, however, customers expect immediate updates via text alerts, real-time outage maps and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Best practices in outage communication

Power outages can leave customers concerned and confused, but your relevant, quick communications can help alleviate these feelings. Keeping customers informed of outages is generally the same across all platforms. You must:

  • Alert customers as soon as possible
  • Send follow-up links of outage maps or restoration times
  • Provide safety tips and suggestions
  • Respond to customer questions or concerns

Best practices in outage communication comes down to your utility making customers the top priority. Proactive and timely information is what social media is all about. The more you can tell customers about the situation, the better.

Its best to share information on multiple platforms including email, text, your website and social media to ensure your customers see the updates on the platform of their choosing. However, remember to post frequently on social media, as this is where customers tend to turn for quick information in today’s digital age.

How to use social media in your outage communication plan

Statistics show that 3.96 billion people currently use social media worldwide. According to the Pew Research Center, more than 72% of U.S. adults use at least one social media site, with 69% saying they use Facebook, 40% Instagram and 23% Twitter.

It’s important to have a social presence for various reasons, including:

  • Customer choice – It provides another way to meet customers where they are
  • More connection points – In addition to email or phone calls, now you can engage with customers on social media
  • Show humanity and brand personality – Customers want and expect to see more behind-the-scenes and genuine content on social media
  • Control the story – Your social media page, your story; control what customers see about your utility with a planned social media strategy
  • Overcome misinformation – “Facts” spread like wildfire on social media, which makes it all the more important to set the record straight quickly

It’s clear that social media isn’t going anywhere. While your energy utility doesn’t need to be on every single social media platform, it’s important you know which ones your customers are using so you can quickly reach them with pertinent information. We suggest using Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for real-time updates and using YouTube to post and share proactive safety videos well in advance of an outage.

When using social media, keep in mind these best practices for outage communications:

  • Customers appreciate frequent, real-time updates rather than waiting for one large update. Doing so can help your utility see a reduction in call center traffic and customer frustration.
  • Use social media to drive customers to other important outage information, like your outage map or safety tips. It’s a good idea to keep one page of your website dedicated to this information.
  • Confirm when full restoration has been reached and thank customers for their patience. No one likes being in the dark – your communications and gratitude will help customers feel like they know what’s happening every step of the way.
  • Listen and respond – customers will often post questions or concerns on your utility’s social pages or posts. It’s important to not let these comments fall by the wayside. Respond accordingly with reassuring tones and as much information as you can, including links to your outage map, real-time restoration updates or safety tips.

Successful customer engagement on social media

At CS Week 2021, Oncor shared that their real-time updates were powerful contributors to increased follower counts after big-weather events. For example, they saw a 68% increase in Twitter followers during the five days of Texas storms earlier this year.

Customers want and expect replies to their comments or questions on social media and, more-so, expect them in a timely fashion. According to Statista, 47% of U.S. consumers have a more favorable view of brands that respond to customer questions or complaints on social media. Further, customers expect a response within one hour, yet 45% of brands take more than five days to respond to messages.

Replying quickly to customers with relevant information can lead to a positive customer experience, which in turn leads to:

  • Brand loyalty
  • Increased sales
  • Customer retention

When replying to customers, consider when to handle a situation publicly or privately. Many times, it helps to answer questions publicly for other customers to easily see the answers. Plus, this shows that you are, in fact, replying to comments. However, sometimes there is sensitive information involved, like requiring an account number or address to further investigate a situation. In these cases, publicly replying to the customer that the conversation should become private will still show your utility as a responsive resource, while keeping the customers’ information secure.

This is typically how Oncor handles situations as well. At CS Week 2021 they said that 93% of their customer service requests on social media are related to outages and 77% of those are posted publicly for all to see. Their goal, however, is to respond publicly with a personal note, but ultimately move it to a private chat.

Examples of outage communications on social media

Social Media Meteorologist – Facebook

Oncor hired a meteorologist specific to their social media team to report on real-time storms and outages in live videos and posts on their platforms. This is a unique approach to delivering relevant and quick information to customers.

Example of outage communications on social media

Listen and Respond – Facebook

In response to a post about crews working to restore power, many Duquesne Light Company customers had questions about when they could expect their power to be back. DLC quickly responded to comments about the expected restoration times and thanked customers for their patience.

Example of outage communications on social media

Be Proactive and Know Your Customers – Facebook

San Diego Gas & Electric knows that it has a wide variety of both English and Spanish speakers in its customer segments. Because of this, the utility is quick to post important safety messages in both languages, like this message on signing up for outage alerts.

Example of outage communications on social media
Example of outage communications on social media

Proactive Emergency Kit Video – YouTube

Help ensure your customers know what to do in case of emergency. San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) made a helpful YouTube video showing how one family prepared an emergency kit. For many people, the list of standard emergency kit items may not be enough. Watching a video demonstration may get the point across.

The video also demonstrates an evacuation, reminding viewers that friends and family members outside the emergency area should be a point of contact to relay information whenever possible. Watch the video below:

Storm Safety Tips Video Series – YouTube

Duke Energy created a series of storm safety videos in both English and Spanish for their customers, sharing insights about what to do when there is a downed power line or a damaged meter box. The videos are short, which means customers are more likely to pay attention and watch the full video. A real employee of Duke narrates the video with a reminder, “Don’t worry, help is on the way.” Watch the full video series below:

How to Report an Outage – Twitter

ComEd frequently uses Twitter to share proactive outage communications. In the tweet below, the utility explains how to report an outage or get outage updates, showcasing a quick video to visually show customers how to do these things.

Example of outage communications on social media

Outage Update – Twitter

ComEd is also quick to use Twitter for real-time outage updates, including thanking customers for their patience. In this tweet, they inform customers that they are continuing to work on restoring power lost from a storm and link over to their outage center for more information.

Example of outage communications on social media

Outage Alert – Facebook

AEP Ohio quickly took to Facebook when an outage was reported in the city. In addition to alerting customers, the post also provided additional ways for customers to stay involved, including links to their outage map, text alerts and app.

Example of outage communications on social media

Outage Alert – Facebook

In the wake of outages due to a hurricane, Entergy posted this update on Facebook with a real-time picture of the damage. They let customers know that crew members were assessing the damage and will be working to restore power as it is safe to do so. Despite the fact that they were currently unable to give a restoration update, the utility clearly keeps customers updated with information as they can. The post also links to their newsroom site on the website with further updates about the storm restoration process.

Example of outage communications on social media

Use these best practices to develop your outage communications strategy. Learn how Questline Digital can help.

With state disconnection bans ending, more than 179 million Americans risk losing their electric service due to unpaid bills. As the economy continues to suffer as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, many energy utilities are taking action to help customers facing financial hardship.

Helping utility customers with deferred payment programs

In August 2020, Questline Digital partnered with a major IOU in the Northeast to provide assistance to the utility’s customers with past due account balances. Questline Digital created an email and one-click landing page to encourage enrollment in the utility’s Deferred Payment Arrangement (DPA) program. This payment assistance program allows customers to pay their past due balance over an agreed period of time (12, 18 or 24 months). Enrollment required no money down regardless of past payment history, giving customers additional financial relief. 

The DPA program email used dynamic data to pre-populate a customer’s name, account number and balance due. It was a text-centered email, with some modifications made to make it transactional. The email linked to a one-click landing page, hosted by Questline Digital, with personalized customer information and a drop-down menu to choose the customers’ preferred payment term options. After selecting their payment term and clicking submit, customers reached a confirmation page. 

Resounding results and ROI 

On Sept. 8, the email was sent to 73,745 customers with unpaid account balances. The one-off email experienced high customer engagement with an open rate of 45.6%, click-to-open rate of nearly 41% and a click-through rate of 18.6%. Questline Digital’s performance metrics show the program promotion truly resonated with an audience experiencing financial crisis.

In fact, within the first 72 hours of the email deployment, the DPA program garnered 11,930 enrollments, representing a staggering $20.8 million in past due balances. The email and landing page proved to be a tremendous success, providing the energy utility with an ROI of roughly 7,000%.

Customer engagement snapshot   

  • 91,323 total opens
  • 32,872 unique opens
  • 17,313 total clicks
  • 13,428 unique clicks
  • 97.77% delivery rate
  • 45.59% open rate
  • 40.85% click-to-open rate
  • 18.62% CTR

Customer satisfaction and cost savings

The DPA promotional email and landing page prevented millions in delinquent accounts from being actively collected. As a result, the energy utility saved countless dollars in printing and mailing costs, while significantly reducing personnel costs and workload for the utility’s internal collections department. It also prevented the energy utility from outsourcing to a debt collection agency for the high volume of unpaid balances.

This customer communication will no doubt have a positive impact on the utility’s customer satisfaction scores. While some customers may still default on the payment terms, the program gives customers an opportunity to ease their financial burden and acknowledge their energy utility as a helpful resource during tough times.

Deferred payment programs provide hope during hardship

In this unprecedented time, energy utilities should encourage enrollment in their payment assistance programs. With no end in sight for the pandemic and a troubled economy, your energy utility needs to provide customers with relief. This promotional email and landing page has resulted in significant cost savings for the energy utility. But more than that — it has shown customers that behind their energy utility are people just like them.

Promote your utility’s payment options with a digital marketing solution from Questline Digital.

Technology seems to advance at the speed of light these days. Yet few things are changing as fast as home energy use. From smart devices to electric vehicles to solar and other renewables, consumers have more control over their energy use than ever before.

The nonprofit Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC), which works to educate the public about the benefits of smart energy and energy technology, enlisted Questline Digital’s help to create fun, engaging resources that would bring these issues to life. This partnership fueled one of our most creative projects to date: “The Evolving World of Energy” video and content series.

Industry collaboration

SECC asked Questline Digital to develop a toolkit of resources to engage residential consumers on specific energy topics through a variety of mediums. The first initiative was an educational video series focused on the ever-changing developments in energy, including electric vehicles and clean energy sources like solar and wind power. Since SECC’s members are made up of energy utilities and other industry partners, the video series needed to be easily sharable on their digital channels, including websites, social media and eNewsletters.

“We started with Questline Digital after creating three ‘The Evolving World of Energy’ fact sheets and decided a compelling character could brand the videos and mediums together,” says Greg Schwartz, SECC’s Director of Operations. “Visuals like infographics, videos and even social media images to accompany the text-based mediums would help to capture consumers’ attention and be better for sharing.” 

“The Evolving World of Energy” video series     

The three video topics included: emerging energy technology, electric vehicles and renewable energy. Before starting production of the first video, Questline Digital’s Creative & Content team brainstormed and presented ideas for three different concepts. SECC ultimately chose Professor Energy, a fun and energetic character to serve as the guide and voiceover throughout the video series. Professor Energy was inspired by “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” the Emmy Award-winning science program known for being quirky yet educational. This video series concept is a nostalgic nod to classic science education programs.

“Professor Energy was created with the mindset of breaking barriers in the male-dominated energy industry,” says Joe Pifher, Questline Digital’s Creative Director. “Her character has a ton of personality, helping to take dry subject matter and turn it into something engaging.”

“Questline Digital’s expertise has proven invaluable to SECC as we’ve sought to fulfill our mission of helping consumers in North America understand the benefits of smart energy. Through videos, infographics, fact sheets and other resources, Questline Digital has helped us provide factual information and practical tips to consumers around renewable energy, electric vehicles, smart home technology and energy efficiency.” —Greg Schwartz, SECC Director of Operations

For the scriptwriting process, the goal was to incorporate the most important information from SECC’s in-depth fact sheets (six to eight pages long) into a three-minute video. In addition to providing educational insights and the latest statistics, the videos needed to engage and entertain viewers.

Each video in the “Evolving World of Energy” series starts and ends with black-and-white footage reminiscent of an old-fashioned educational film, which serves as a dramatic contrast to the colorful contemporary animation that follows. This visual look also illustrates energy’s dramatic transformation from the past into the future. Each video featured real-world examples and provided Professor Energy with plenty of adventures as she navigated different scenes.

For example, in the “Evolving World of Energy” video, Professor Energy demonstrates the convenience of smart home technology by adjusting her home’s AC from her smartphone while relaxing on the beach. In the video “Renewable Energy 101″ she appears in a solar farm, as photovoltaics pop up in the scene all around her, showcasing this fast-growing renewable resource.

The video “Electric Vehicles: How Much Do You Know?” was the most comprehensive of the series, both in animation and scriptwriting. This video needed to dispel common misconceptions around electric vehicles while showcasing new opportunities and efficiencies. This video featured additional characters, including a talking electric vehicle named Eve. In this video, Professor Energy and Eve drive around town, highlighting the benefits of EVs versus gasoline-powered vehicles. Questline Digital also created the “Electric Vehicles: The Ride of the Future” infographic with key trends and statistics from the video. 

SECC shared these resources through a variety of channels:

  • Industry and consumer websites: Resources were available to view or download by members and non-members.
  • In-person conferences: Videos were showcased at several member meetings and a consumer symposium comprised of SECC members and non-member attendees.
  • Webinars: The Electric Vehicles video and infographic were prominently featured in an EV webinar that had 100 attendees.  
  • Social media: Shared on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest (including paid media) 
  • Email marketing: Resources were included in announcement emails and educational recap emails. They were sent to SECC’s consumer email list (4,996 subscribers), member email list (1,603 subscribers) and industry non-member email list (1,820 subscribers).
  • SECC Members: Resources were shared on member social media channels and included in eNewsletters, as well as utilized for internal education.
  • Google Adwords: EV content was used in Google Ads, generating a high number of clicks and impressions.

Results and metrics  

“The Evolving World of Energy” video series proved to be a success, helping to increase consumer understanding of renewable energy and smart technology. Combined, “The Evolving World of Energy” video series garnered more than 5,400 views on YouTube.

The video “Electric Vehicles: How Much Do You Know?” is the most popular to date, reflecting growing consumer interest in EVs. The video and accompanying infographic were added to the main navigation element on SECC’s consumer website. They also serve as key decision-making resources for companies and organizations to join SECC.

“Electric Vehicles: How Much Do You Know?” video

  • 4,422 views on YouTube
  • Nearly 16,000 views on Facebook
  • 41,951 pageviews on consumer website

“Electric Vehicles: The Ride of the Future” infographic

  • 284 industry downloads
  • 894 pageviews on SECC’s consumer website

Learn how Questline Digital’s Electric Vehicles Content can drive your EV marketing strategy to the finish line.