It’s imperative that your utility prepares a proactive communications strategy to educate customers about rising energy costs and help them take control of monthly bills.

“Having a proactive and cohesive strategy around changing costs is no longer a nice-to-have,” says Mary Malone, Questline Digital Director of Account Development. “It’s become imperative to sustaining a trusting relationship with customers.”

Customers want to know:

  • Why are energy costs rising?
  • How do I reduce my energy consumption?
  • How do I save money on my energy bill?
  • What can I expect from my bills moving forward?

Your energy utility should explain rising energy costs and rate changes as clearly and directly as possible.

Remember to:

  • Keep messages simple by avoiding jargon
  • Highlight your utility’s commitment to keeping costs affordable for customers
  • Provide energy-efficiency resources and education
  • Clearly explain bill assistance programs or payment options

Why Are Energy Costs Rising?

The first question for many customers is, “Why are energy costs rising?” Although the answer is complicated, it’s important to explain as much as you can about the situation. The more customers know, the more understanding they’ll be to price shifts.

Many factors are causing spikes in energy costs, including the pandemic, Russia’s attack on Ukraine, supply chain issues and climate changes.

“The cost of natural gas that’s delivered through pipes was up 24% in February from the year prior, while electricity went up 9%,” The Guardian reported. “Price spikes are notably higher in places where electricity is generated from natural gas, such as the Northeast, which saw a 16% increase in January from the same time last year, with prices dipping down to a 6% increase in February.”

The unpredictable natural gas market, which powers much electricity generation, is also attributed to increased production costs. The addition of extreme weather conditions, including the Texas Freeze and Hurricane Ida, pushed oil production to stop on the Gulf Coast. These conditions led to higher energy prices as the demand increased.

Richard Berkley, Executive Director of the Public Utility Law Project, explained that the situation would be different if the U.S. didn’t rely so heavily on energy sources that depend on the supply chain and global market. “Now with sustained disruption of the world energy markets, we should expect to see higher prices till the end of the year,” he said.

Although customers may be aware of some of these situations, they may not know the direct impact these factors have on rising energy costs. Explaining this information in clear, easy-to-understand ways through emails, newsletters, alerts and more will help keep customers informed and educated.

How to Address the Cost of Energy

Besides world and weather events, customers don’t always understand why energy costs fluctuate throughout the year. Generally, electricity prices reflect the cost to build, finance, maintain and operate power plants and the grid.

Do your customers know this?

The more customers understand the various elements behind the cost to generate and distribute energy, the more empathetic they’ll be when increases occur. In other words, this has a major impact on long-term customer satisfaction.

According to E Source, customers want to understand how price increases and rate changes affect four areas:

  • Their families, businesses and personal lives
  • The environment
  • Future generations
  • Their communities

Tactfully explain to customers why some factors drive rising energy costs, including:

  • Fuel prices: Clearly explain that when demand increases, so does the cost. With supply chain challenges and the demand for fuel increasing, these higher fuel prices can lead to higher costs for generating electricity.
  • Power plant costs: Let customers know about the costs that go into operating and maintaining generation facilities and what cost increases your utility is seeing in daily operations.
  • Transmission and distribution systems: The systems that connect power plants to customers also need continuous maintenance. Describe where these costs come from.
  • Weather conditions: Most of the U.S. has been battered by high temperatures lately, which puts a strain on the grid as the demand for cooling increases. On the other hand, rising energy costs can also occur in the winter when frigid temperatures require increased heating. Customers may not realize that these things affect the cost of energy.
  • Regulations: Some states have regulated prices or a combination of regulated and unregulated prices. Be upfront about what your utility experiences when it comes to government and state regulations and how it impacts energy costs.

Transparently describing how energy prices are determined can help customers feel “in the know” and showcases your energy utility as a trusted resource.

Example of content marketing to educate customers about rising energy costs

Rising energy costs affect customers in different ways

Develop communications strategies for both residential and business customers. Their different needs and concerns should be addressed in distinct ways.

For example, retail electricity prices are usually higher for residential than commercial customers because of different distribution costs. However, supplying electricity to industrial customers is often less expensive and more efficient because they can receive the electricity at higher voltages.

For residential customers, it’s important to educate them on peak and non-peak hours and how these can affect their electric bills, especially if you offer time-of-use rate plans. Typically, electricity demand is high in the early afternoon and evening, which means costs will increase at these times. If customers change when they do some activities, such as charging their EV or running loads of laundry, to non-peak hours they can see a decrease in energy costs.

Provide this information to customers through newsletters, social media, text or emails where you can share content pieces that teach customers about energy use and lowering consumption.

Example of newsletter educating utility customers about rising energy costs

Reach Customers With the Right Message in the Right Channel

Communicating with customers should go beyond basic energy efficiency advice. Instead, provide direct ways that customers can lower their energy consumption and combat rising energy costs. It’s important for customers to know that increased energy efficiency ultimately leads to lower costs.

Additionally, provide resources like payment assistance programs, budget billing and content that speaks to the needs of customers impacted by rising energy costs.

A multi-channel communications strategy is key to reaching as many customers as possible. Recommended channels include email, direct mail, social media, text messaging and any other communication methods your utility’s customers prefer.

Email Example: Rate Change Message

Example of email communicating utility rate change to customers

The above email from Pioneer Energy Management in Ohio directly tells customers how much their rate is changing and when the change will be effective. It doesn’t include any fluff or introduction — it gets straight to the point. Once readers know that their rate is increasing, they can continue to read on for helpful tips to manage their electric bill.

Direct Mail Example: Rate Increase Message

Example of direct mail communicating rate increase to utility customers

Novia Scotia Power created a direct mail campaign that answered customers’ direct questions, including “Why are rate increases so high?” In its direct mail flyer, NSP shares that the utility is working toward distributing cleaner energy and switching to renewable sources. This transparent information allows customers to better understand why price increases are occurring and where the extra revenue is going.

Web Page Example: Rate Education

Example of utility website educating customers about energy rates

Southern California Edison has a page on its website titled “How Rates Are Set” that provides an FAQ section and clear explanations for how the utility determines the price of electricity and what affects those costs.

The utility also helpfully breaks down where each dollar of the customer’s energy cost goes:

  • 46 cents – generation: Costs of energy sources, including solar, wind and natural gas, and generation SCE owns, including hydro and natural gas plants.
  • 37 cents – distribution: Grid maintenance and new equipment, including poles and wires and substations.
  • 8 cents – transmission: Investment in operations and maintenance for high-voltage transmission lines.
  • 5 cents – wildfire: Insulated wire, vegetation clearing, enhanced inspections, weather stations, HD cameras, insurance.
  • 4 cents – public purpose programs: Mandated state programs, including incentives for energy efficiency and protection for low-income customers.

Customers appreciate transparent, direct information. When customers see your utility as a trusted resource they have higher overall satisfaction.

Social Media Example: Peak-Hour Reminders

Example of social media post communicating peak hour rates to energy utility customers

UniSource Energy Services, located in Arizona, provides reminders on its Facebook posts for customers to be aware of peak and off-peak hours when choosing activities. The utility then provides a link to more tips on cooling homes in the summer. Customers do not always know when off-peak hours are — sharing this information in a quick social media post acts as a helpful reminder.

Social Media Example: Bill Assistance Programs

Example of social media post communicating energy bill assistance programs to utility customers

AEP Ohio shared this post on Twitter to inform customers that their bill assistance programs were expanding eligibility requirements, even for customers who were not past due with their payments. This proactive post helps customers who may be struggling but were ineligible previously.

Urgent Need for Proactive Communications

With rising energy costs, there is an increased urgency to provide valuable information to customers for combatting high energy bills. Helping customers understand how to lower their energy consumption and how increased energy efficiency ultimately leads to lower costs can build positive relationships among customers.

Connect customers with the right payment programs and billing options. Learn how Questline Digital’s customer assistance solutions can help.

Relevant communication isn’t just a preference for consumers — it’s an expectation. Your customers want to see messages that speak to their needs and interests, and they don’t want to be bothered with messages that don’t.

For energy utilities, relevant communications are best achieved by employing customer segmentation. This tactic remains the best way to cut through digital clutter and deliver content that matters to each customer.

What is Utility Customer Segmentation?

At its core, segmentation is a marketing strategy used to identify and connect with target customers. It is a way to organize your customers into approachable groups, or segments, and deliver relevant messages based on the interests or needs shared by members of each segment.

Customer segmentation is not to be confused with personalization. Whereas segmentation sends different messages to specified groups, personalization sends a unique message to each individual customer.

Example of criteria used to create customer segments for energy utilities

A segment can be defined as a group of customers that share identifiable characteristics that are unique from other customers. Such characteristics include:

  • Demographics: This includes characteristics such as age or income. Demographic data may be obtained from energy utility customer records or third-party databases.
  • Geography: Service territory, zip code or neighborhood. This is vital for outage and low-income communications.
  • Psychographics: What do your customers care about and what are they motivated by? When building preference centers or surveying interests, you can identify who is most likely to engage with specific topics. Some interests you might target include EV ownership, environmental concern or early adoption of new technologies.
  • Behaviors: Actions taken or not taken by customers. This includes program participation, purchases (electric vehicles, appliances), high energy use and content engagement or reading behavior.
  • Industry: Hospitals, schools, manufacturers, retailers and data centers all use energy differently. The programs, services and content promoted to business customers should shift based on their specific industry needs.

The Benefits of Customer Segmentation

According to Hubspot, the benefits of customer segmentation can be substantial — marketers who use segmented campaigns can see as much as a 760% increase in revenue.

Specific benefits of customer segmentation for energy utilities include:

  • Boost in engagement and performance: By targeting groups of customers rather than your entire list, products and services immediately become more relevant. This in turn increases customer engagement with your utility’s content and promotions. People are more likely to engage with communications that meet their needs and ignore those that don’t.
  • Better understanding of your customers: By evaluating customer behavior and pursuing segmentation, your utility will gain an understanding of what topics your customers care about. With this knowledge, you can better build future promotions to speak directly to their needs.
  • Increased loyalty: When customers feel understood and uniquely communicated with, they are more likely to be loyal to your utility and recommend its services or promotions to others.

Tips for Creating Utility Customer Segments

“You can’t create one ad or commercial that appeals to everybody, because different groups of buyers have different needs,” explains Robert Bly in his classic marketing book, The Copywriter’s Handbook. “Tailor both the content and the presentation of your information to the group of customers you’re selling to.”

Not sure where to start? Follow some of the utility customer segmentation tips below:

  • Start early. Customer onboarding is an ideal time to begin segmentation. Put your early customer touchpoints to work and gather data that can be used for future grouping. What actions do customers take, and not take, in your welcome emails? Use this information to build segments such as:
    • Mobile-friendly or tech-savvy: those who sign up for mobile alerts and payments
    • Hard to reach: those who take no action or make no indication of preferences
    • Digitally engaged: those who sign up for eNewsletters
  • Start small. You can ease into segmentation by looking at one journey or one demographic group. For example, you may want to promote mobile payments to customers younger than 40, instead of getting bogged down creating mobile payment promotions for all customers. Start with the “low hanging fruit” to make a big impact right away. Then expand.
  • Use internal and external data. While it’s important to use your own data — like what content customers click on, previous program participation or self-identified preferences — your utility doesn’t need to solely rely on this type of information.You can expand your segments with third-party data, such as credit information or vehicle ownership.
  • Segment only when relevant. Some messages don’t need to be segmented; your utility may be better served by sending the communication to the entire customer list. Or for that matter, two or three segments are often just as effective as six or eight segments. Don’t segment for segmentation’s sake.

Utility Customer Segmentation Examples

Example of customer interested used to create segmentation strategy for energy utility

The following examples of utility customer segmentation show how messaging strategies can address specific audiences to increase engagement and conversions:

  • Marketplace promotions: Specific products can be promoted to segments based on content engagement. If a customer reads your newsletter article about smart thermostats, send them an offer to buy the latest model on your marketplace. If a customer watches your videos about electric vehicles, add them to a segment that might be interested in EV smart chargers.
  • Small vs. large business: Residential and business customers have obvious differences. But so do large and small business owners. Communicate relevant messages according to employee count or facility size to increase engagement.
  • Homeowners vs. renters: Energy efficiency messaging and other program promotions can be targeted based on a customer’s ability to undertake home improvements. Renters may be interested in LED lightbulbs and smart power strips, but they probably aren’t going to buy a new furnace or upgrade their insulation; save those messages for homeowners.
  • Environmental vs. money-saving motivations: People with varying concerns respond to efficiency messages differently, even when the end result (reduced energy use) is the same. One segment of customers might be interested in paperless billing and appliance recycling because they want to save money, another segment might be more interested in reducing their carbon footprint.
  • Income-based messaging: Low-income program messages can be targeted to households that meet eligibility requirements or triggered by behavioral factors such as high bills or late payments.

Reach the Right Customers with Utility Customer Segmentation

Utility customer segmentation has the means to improve customer engagement, increase satisfaction, drive program results and boost conversions all by delivering relevant information to target audiences. The benefits of customer segmentation are clear.

Luckily, segmentation doesn’t have to be hard. By identifying customer needs, interests and motivations, your energy utility can send targeted communications that resonate with particular audiences.

Improve engagement and satisfaction with a utility customer segmentation strategy from Questline Digital.

Energy utility customers no longer want or hope for engaging digital experiences — they expect them. These experiences offer opportunities for people to learn and understand things they might not otherwise encounter.

For example, during the height of the pandemic, the Google Arts & Culture team partnered with over 2,500 museums and galleries to offer free virtual tours and online exhibits worldwide. Not only did this allow people to travel without leaving their homes, it also created a unique sense of connection as people experienced these virtual visits together.

When it comes to your customers, they want nothing short of an engaging digital experience from their energy utility. The past two years have shown that webinars are highly successful at providing these experiences. In fact, 2020 saw a total increase of 160% in digital experiences, according to the 2021 Digital Experience Benchmarks Report.

Webinars are a unique way to connect with utility customers and employees, sharing educational resources or training tools with each group. However, what does an engaging digital experience look like?

According to Mark Bornstein, Vice President of Marketing and aptly named “Chief Webinerd” for On24, it’s a branded experience that includes multimedia, multitouch content as well as human interaction.

“Our audiences no longer want passive experiences,” says Bornstein. “They’re looking for multimedia experiences — this idea of really mixing and matching the forms of media and the different types of content in a different experience. We need to deliver multitouch content experiences where people get lots of content in every experience. And every experience needs to feel like an approachable human experience.”

Read on to learn more expert advice for creating an effective, interactive webinar to engage with your utility’s customers or employees as you educate them. Then, download Questline Digital’s checklist and put these tips to good use during your next webinar.

Top 10 Webinar Tips and Tricks

These are the top 10 webinar tips and tricks to produce successful and engaging virtual events.

  1. Maintain a consistent schedule
  2. Build a multichannel promotion strategy
  3. Ensure you have an engaging host
  4. Limit the number of presenters
  5. Practice, practice, practice
  6. Know your audience
  7. Make the presentation engaging
  8. Plan for the unexpected
  9. Follow up with registrants
  10. Make the webinar available on-demand
Infographic listing top 10 webinar tips and tricks

Webinar Tip 1: Maintain a Consistent Schedule

The best webinar series has built-in loyalty by being consistent with topics and presentation days. Customers know what to expect and when to expect the webinars because the schedule has been communicated from the start.

Questline Digital’s client, Arizona Public Service (APS), is well-known for this approach. “They host webinars regularly — about two webinars a month for the past three years,” says Josh Platt, Questline Digital Account Director. “Some may see this as overkill, but it’s simply consistent branding, allowing the utility to have a pre-determined editorial calendar and loyal attendees.”

Webinar Tip 2: Build a Multichannel Promotion Strategy

It’s imperative to go where your customers are. This means promoting webinars in emails, on social media and your utility’s website. The more you promote your webinar, the more registrants you’re bound to get. Bornstein reminds us, “Everywhere your audience goes to interact with your brand, they should be met with, not a piece of content, but an experience.”

Platt again points to the success of APS, noting, “They do a great job promoting their webinars online and offline. They publish articles or ads in a trade journal once a quarter that lists their upcoming webinars. They also cross-promote on social media to reach people who may not be on their email list.

“If you’re promoting well, you’re doing a number of things,” Platt adds. “The benefits of online and offline promotions extend to list building and outreach to customers you may not currently have in your network.”

Questline Digital’s webinar tips and tricks recommends starting promotions for webinars six to eight weeks in advance. When sending emails, consider sending three in advance and two after the event:

  • First email one month before webinar
  • Second email two weeks before webinar
  • Third email the week of the webinar
  • “Thank you” email after the webinar to those who registered and attended
  • “Sorry we missed you” email to those who did not attend with a link to a recording of the webinar

“With APS, we plan an entire year’s worth of webinars by October and have them promoted offline in a magazine the first week of November,” Platt says. “If you’re wanting to work off of best practices, you’re promoting a ways out.”

Infographic listing advice for advanced promotion webinar tricks and tips

Webinar Tip 3: Ensure You Have an Engaging Host

Even if the content and presenters are top-of-the-line for your webinar, it’s still key to have an emcee or host who can moderate questions and move along the conversation.

Your host can hold different responsibilities depending on the webinar. They can be virtually invisible during the presentation, only appearing when needed, or they can be face or voice for your webinar or series. No matter which way your utility chooses to go, ensure you have a host who is engaging and lively — nothing is worse than having a monotone voice trying to carry the conversation.

In addition, your emcee should be able to quickly navigate the conversation, moving it from one speaker to another or directing questions to specific presenters to keep the webinar from stumbling into an awkward lull. Managing the time and pace of the webinar is also imperative; the host should be able to jump in and remind presenters of the time remaining and keep things moving.

Webinar Tip 4: Limit the Number of Presenters

It’s best to include multiple subject matter experts in your webinar to provide different perspectives and unique answers to customer questions. However, having too many presenters at once can often do more harm than good, making the presentation overwhelming and confusing for attendees.

Kelly Metz, Digital Campaign Production Specialist with Questline Digital, suggests no more than four presenters during a webinar, saying “Too many cooks will spoil the soup.”

Metz also advises that when including multiple presenters, be prepared in advance by deciding:

  • Who will move the presentation slides
  • How and when to transition between speakers
  • Who will moderate Q&A
  • What location to present from so you have a reliable internet connection

“If possible, use the same hardware, software and location in both practice sessions and the live webinar,” Metz adds. “If it was successful in the dry run, chances are that it will work for the live run.”

Bornstein also shares the importance of utilizing video during your webinars and showing the presenters’ faces. “Video is table stakes at this point,” he says. “If you’re not showing your face, you’re not doing digital marketing.”

Quotation about webinar tips and tricks reading Video is table stakes at this point If youre not showing your face youre not doing digital marketing

Webinar Tip 5: Practice, Practice, Practice

Everyone knows the phrase, “practice makes perfect” and yet it continues to ring true. “You can’t go into a webinar thinking it’s any other meeting, especially if you’re on camera,” Platt says. “You need to practice, prepare and plan.”

Questline Digital suggests holding a dry-run event one or two weeks before the live webinar to ensure there are no technical difficulties and that each person understands the way the platform works.

Another webinar tip and trick is that each individual needs to plan accordingly for his or her own performance. “You need to think about how you want to look — dressing the part with a shirt and tie or being casual in a hoodie and letting the content speak for itself,” Platt says. “Practice using hand gestures in camera view. Practice smiling and nodding even when you’re muted — those things go a long way.”

It’s important to remember that most attendees registered for the event because of the content, but they stay because of the presenters. It’s imperative to make sure the presentation is engaging and worth attendees’ time.

“Remember, whether you’re on camera or not, the webinar is being recorded forever and could potentially be broadcast to the world,” Platt says.

Webinar Tip 6: Know Your Audience

Webinars can be used as tools to promote programs to residential customers, educational resources to small business owners or training materials to employees. No matter what your utility’s goal, it’s critical to understand the audience that will be attending to develop webinar content appropriately. In addition, knowing your audience’s interests or level or expertise and developing webinars to meet their needs is an immediate way to build trust.

Invest in open and closed captioning subtitles and provide options for multilingual viewing. Depending on your service territory, you may not be able to assume that English is your customers’ preferred language, and you should never assume that they can hear spoken language.

“Make the investment” in multilingual support, Platt says. “Build that trust with your customers and prove to them that your utility cares. If you don’t, you’re missing out on an important touchpoint.”

National Grid and Eversource lean into this, ensuring all its customers are accounted for when producing webinars. As customers struggled financially due to the pandemic, National Grid and Eversource developed webinars to promote their financial assistance programs. To accommodate the varying needs of customers, the webinars were produced with closed captioning and broadcast in English, Spanish and Portuguese. The webinars also included live video of an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, which attracted nearly 1,000 attendees to its broadcast alone.

Illustration of case study that reads National Grid and Eversource focus on inclusivity in a virtual world

Webinar Tip 7: Make the Presentation Engaging

Despite expert presenters and subject matter experts, if a presentation falls flat, so does the whole webinar. After all, “It’s not a presentation that you’re delivering, it’s an experience that you’re giving,” says Bornstein.

A few simple webinar tips and tricks when creating the deck for your presentation include:

  • Keep the text to a minimum
  • Utilize bullet points for easy skimming
  • Include relevant imagery
  • Build links into the content

“If you can’t sell it in three bullet points and a pretty picture, you’re talking too much,” says Platt. “The purpose of a webinar is getting people interested in taking another action. You don’t need to explain everything, just enough for them to want to know more.”

“We’ve seen a great evolution away from talking PowerPoints to creating really great serialized programming in the world of webinars,” Bornstein says. “We’ve seen webinars do all these really cool formats, where there are interview shows and news style formats and coffee talks and chat shows and they’re really taking their inspiration from TV-like viewing experiences more than the old-school tutorials of the past.”

Webinar Tip 8: Plan for the Unexpected

As everyone has been keenly aware of during the past two years of increased digital experiences, technology is not always on our side. This is why it’s so important for your webinar’s host and presenters to prepare for every failure that could happen. “Whether your cell phone battery dies or the dog is barking or a tree is being cut down in your yard, plan for the unexpected,” says Platt. “Plan for failure and you will avoid failing.”

When preparing for a webinar, Questline Digital recommends:

  • Have a hard copy of your script and presentation on hand
  • Charge and mute your phone
  • Share your phone number with the other presenters and webinar producers in case of disconnection
  • Have a backup way of connecting to audio

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a webinar technical producer, it’s that planning for the unexpected is imperative to the success of a webinar event,” explains Josh Dozer, Client Operations Coordinator for Questline Digital. “Numerous contingencies have been put in place to account for as many unknowns as possible, dramatically improving the experiences of both audience members and presenters alike. However, it’s still up to each individual to plan and prepare for the unknowns.”

Quotation about webinar tricks and tips that reads Plan for failure and you will avoid failing

Webinar Tip 9: Follow Up with Registrants

Another key webinar tip and trick is to connect with all registrants after the live event. This includes the following groups:

  • Those who registered and attended
  • Those who registered but didn’t attend
  • Those who didn’t register or attend

Each follow-up email should contain a message that is specific to the intended receivers. For those who didn’t register or attend the webinar, the follow-up needs to explain how your utility felt the topic was important enough to reach out again.

For the other two types of follow-up messages, saying “thank you for attending” or “sorry we missed you” goes a long way. Provide key takeaways from the webinar and a link to view the webinar on-demand. A multistate Northeast investor-owned utility has gone a step further to embed a survey link in their follow-up communications to encourage customers to share about their webinar experiences. The survey responses help the utility best prepare for its future webinars.

In addition, you can create brief audio or video highlights from the webinar that can be shared on social media, in emails or on your website. For example, Questline Digital identifies relevant soundbites from each webinar we host and turns them into short audio recordings to share on social media.

Example of audio content for webinar tips and tricks

Platt recommends this tactic specifically as a list-building activity. “If you’ve scripted it well and have done a good presentation, you can take a 60-minute webinar and cut it into five 10-minute segments to promote to customers who you don’t have an email address for and attain that information from them,” he says.

Bornstein adds, “Now, you can build the event and take the event content and repurpose it in so many different ways. Perhaps creating personalized experiences or virtual roadshows using a targeted personalized landing page. This means that digital events are not just an event, they’re a strategy.”

Webinar Tip 10: Make the Webinar Available On-Demand

An absolute must-have when it comes to webinars is making the event available on-demand following the live production. This extends the lifecycle of the content and allows customers to continue the webinar experience, whether they originally registered or not.

Questline Digital offers on-demand webinars as a standard part of our webinar solution for energy utilities. We can also provide a cleaned-up recording of the webinar, where our video producers switch between full-screen cameras and the presentation to increase engagement.

As an additional benefit of on-demand webinars, Platt recommends capturing customers’ names and email addresses when they view the recording. “This is another touchpoint where your utility can continue to build its lists and extend the reach of its communication.”

Successful Webinars Begin with Preparation

The most engaging and successful webinars are created through consistent preparation and practice. Between the speakers, host and presentation, there are many moving parts to getting a webinar up and running. The key is to remember how the pieces come together and to begin preparations well in advance.

“Post-COVID audiences expect a different kind of connection and a different kind of communication,” Bornstein says. “They’re looking for us to connect in real, authentic ways. They’re looking for experiences that are interactive. Maybe they’re looking to be entertained a little bit, but they’re looking for experiences that are real, human, authentic and approachable.”

Whether your goal is to educate customers or employees, following these webinar tips and tricks will set your utility up for long-term success.

Download Questline Digital’s free checklist and follow our experts’ tips and tricks to boost engagement during your utility’s next webinar.

Learn how Questline Digital’s energy experts can educate your target audience with engaging, interactive and personalized online webinars.

Discover these best practices for creating a winning webinar content strategy to educate utility customers and employees.

In today’s digital world of Zoom and FaceTime, webinars are booming. In fact, a recent study finds the use of webinars increased by 162% and attendance nearly quadrupled in the past two years. That’s why it important for energy utilities to take advantage of a webinar content strategy to educate and engage customers and employees.

“Webinars are proven to be a convenient and cost-effective outreach effort to educate customers,” says Mike Carter, Senior Energy Analyst with Questline Digital. “This form of communication positions your energy utility as a go-to expert and resource for energy end-use implementation. Customers become more confident that their utility can help them.”

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, energy utilities would host a variety of events in person for business customers, residential customers, trade allies and other audiences. This would require them to rent a hall or hotel meeting space, along with AV equipment, and cater a lunch or breakfast for hundreds of attendees. A webinar simplifies this often-complicated process, saving time and expense while achieving the same goal.

“First and foremost, webinars allow a democratization of access, so customers don’t need to attend a training in person,” says Josh Platt, Account Director with Questline Digital. “You can accomplish the same thing with a webinar for less cost and effort. Plus, you’re able to reach more people who otherwise would not be able to attend.”

Ready to use webinars to provide value to customers at a low cost? The next step is building your webinar content strategy. This is not a one-size-fits-all solution — it requires a tailored approach based on your target audience, trending topics and your program goals.

Connect with C&I customers

Webinars are a popular platform to reach commercial and industrial (C&I) customers, as this audience is accustomed to learning through virtual environments. Plus, business owners and facility managers regularly lean on their energy utility provider for guidance around energy and cost-savings programs and safety solutions.

With an effective webinar content strategy, your energy utility can educate C&I customers on ways to reduce costs, increase energy efficiency and solve facility-related issues. Carter recommends monthly webinars as an ideal frequency to serve as an energy resource for commercial customers.

“Another important benefit of webinars is addressing the age-old human question: What have you done for me lately?” Carter explains. “If you have a webinar every month, your business customers are reminded that their utility is here for them with the right resources.”

To develop a webinar content strategy that resonates with C&I customers, you’ll need to focus on common issues facing businesses in your service territory. For example, perhaps many businesses have experienced power quality issues or requested guidance on electrifying their warehouses and fleets.

“If businesses are having power quality issues and you haven’t been able to do enough to fix it, help them deal with that with a power quality basics webinar,” Carter explains. “If your utility is launching a new rebate for electric forklifts, create a webinar that educates customers about the benefits of the program and electrification.”

When crafting your webinar content strategy, Platt recommends taking advantage of seasonal topics. For example, since businesses are conducting maintenance on their cooling units in the winter (when they are not in use), consider creating a related webinar in January or February. Likewise, consider a webinar that discusses boiler maintenance in the summertime.

“Thinking about seasonal topics is essential — you need to be working months ahead of the season,” Platt says. “If you’re a retailer, you’re not planning for Christmas in December, you’re planning in March or April.”

According to Questline Digital’s 2021 Benchmarks Report, the top 10 most popular webinar topics for C&I customers included:

  • Chiller/RTU maintenance
  • ENERGY STAR ® portfolio manager
  • Improving the quality of indoor air
  • Energy efficiency for commercial customers
  • Energy savings opportunities for schools
  • Power quality solutions
  • Energy efficiency financial analysis
  • Compressed air energy management
  • Energy storage
  • Standby generators for business continuity

Be an energy resource for residential customers

Residential customers are more challenging to reach with webinars. This target audience isn’t often thinking about their energy provider unless they get their monthly bill or a power outage occurs. Your webinar content strategy for residential customers should include trending topics and relevant programs and services.

According to Carter, residential customers are often motivated by gadgets and the latest tech, such as smart home technology, electric vehicles and solar power. Consider a webinar strategy that discusses ways to save energy with smart home devices or the benefits of owning an EV.

“When there is a new rollout of a program, a webinar is a great way to communicate the details with your customers,” Carter explains. “This could be done on an as-needed basis, such as when your utility is debuting a new EV rebate program.”

Webinars can also help residential customers learn about services they may not even realize your energy utility offers. For example, many customers are unaware that your utility offers an energy marketplace. Consider creating a webinar that educates customers on the benefits of shopping at your marketplace over big box retailers.

“If you’re running an email promotion, a social media campaign or have a page on your website promoting something, there is no reason why you couldn’t do a webinar too,” Platt says.

Your webinar content strategy should also help notify customers of important information they need to know. For example, if your utility is implementing a new rate plan, a webinar can help ensure trust and transparency between your utility and residential customers.

Questline Digital worked with a large Southwest energy utility to create a webinar series about their payment assistance program to customers facing financial hardship. Before utilizing webinars, the utility was renting a hotel meeting space where they might get around 30 customers to attend the in-person event, Platt notes. Many customers in this demographic can’t leave work to attend an event, so a 30-minute webinar is much more feasible.

“Now, they can have 1,000 customers attend for a third of the cost,” Platt explains. “Plus, the webinar can be recorded and repurposed for YouTube or Facebook, giving these customers the ability to watch the webinar on their own time. It truly makes the information outreach more egalitarian.”

Educate utility employees with a webinar content strategy

In addition to engaging with residential and business customers, webinars are also an effective platform to educate energy utility employees.

When creating a webinar content strategy for utility employees, consider what topics will help them become energy experts and resources for customers. This is also an opportunity to refresh employees on the details of your various programs and services.

“Webinars are one of the best options to increase employee engagement and education,” says Jayne Culbertson, Senior Account Manager with Questline Digital. “This platform allows employees to take a deeper dive into a topic compared to just reading an article or watching a video. Plus, utilities can obtain employee feedback, which is invaluable.”

Questline Digital worked with a major Southeast energy utility to create monthly training webinars for account managers and new employees. The webinars, which focused on a variety of business topics, helped their employees become a source of knowledge for commercial customers. Following each webinar, the recording is added to the utility’s internal learning management system to give employees a chance to watch at a later time.

“Our utility client created a custom webinar to help employees learn about electric forklifts,” Culbertson explains. “The webinar highlighted the benefits of electric forklifts and provided specific details about the related rebate program. All of the webinars feature relevant information and trending topics that employees are likely to get questions about.”

Another webinar topic, commercial kitchens, was designed to educate account managers on energy efficient kitchens for restaurants, schools and other facilities. With the right webinar content strategy, utility employees can enhance their knowledge on valuable topics of interest to both residential and business customers.

“Webinars are a complement to other communication efforts, such as newsletters, email promotions and social media,” Culbertson says. “It’s important to select and align webinar topics around other programs and initiatives at your utility so customers are getting the same information on the platform that works best for them.”

Webinars Bring Value, Greater Convenience to Customers

In today’s digital landscape, consumers are accustomed to learning and attending events online. Webinars give your customers and employees valuable information without the hassle of commuting to a hotel or event space. Whether you’re looking to educate customers or employees, webinars are an essential tool in your marketing strategy.

Learn how Questline Digital can help create a webinar content strategy for your energy utility.

Imagine being unable to reach your energy utility customers with important service updates and program promotions. That’s the reality for disengaged customers — they are essentially unreachable.

Customer disengagement can be described as the buyer’s perception that a brand can’t meet their rational or emotional needs. Once they feel this way, people stop listening to the brand, act as passive participants and sometimes even leave.

So, what causes customer disengagement and what does it cost your energy utility?

Common Causes of Disengaged Customers

New customers don’t start disengaged. They become that way over time when your energy utility fails to meet their expectations.

Here are common reasons why you may have disengaged customers:

  • They receive irrelevant information
  • Or too much information
  • Or too little information
  • They receive messages in unwanted formats
  • They feel bombarded by transactional messages that don’t provide value
  • They only hear from their utility when you want something, not when they want something

Tom Collinger of Northwestern University explains it well, saying, “No longer can companies risk annoying their customers by contacting them with too many emails, too many sales pitches, too much promotion…creates a fatigue effect that leads to disengagement. The time has come for a coordinated contact strategy. The old blanket approach doesn’t work anymore.”

To keep customers engaged, you must provide consistent value.

Graphic with text Energy utilities can earn up to $60 more per engaged household

Why Disengaged Customers Cost More

Disengaged customers aren’t reading your emails. They are not aware of program promotions and unlikely to stumble across the messages you want them to see. While they may remain a customer, they are passive participants at best.

These customers can clog call center lines with questions, and they are unlikely to be enrolled in paperless billing or energy efficiency programs. This means higher costs to serve, potentially missed payments and higher energy expenses.

Worse, disengaged customers can leave. And attracting a new customer costs five times as much as retaining one.

Disengagement is a problem whichever way you look at it. So, on the flip side, what’s the monetary return of building true customer engagement?

The Monetary Value of Engaged Customers

Energy utilities that foster engagement find that consumers are more loyal, more open to low-cost digital channels, more responsive to marketing and more willing to shift their time of use or adopt energy-efficient behaviors.

Each engaged household can add an incremental $18 to $60 annually to an energy provider’s bottom line, according to calculations from Opower.

Let’s say your energy utility has 75,000 residential customers. That’s an additional $4.5 million of potential revenue if all those households are engaged.

This added revenue comes from the cumulation of lowered service costs, reduced churn, behavioral efficiencies, increased cross-sell opportunities and program participation.

Preventing Disengaged Customers

Customer engagement carries a true return on investment. Luckily, there are many things you can do to prevent customer disengagement. A thoughtful communications strategy that includes personalized and resourceful content can help your energy utility rise above expectations and build loyal customers.

Learn how a content marketing strategy from Questline Digital can build long-term engagement with your customers.