Questline Digital’s annual Energy Utility Benchmarks Report provides data and insights into customer engagement for energy providers across the country. In our recent webinar, “2022 Energy Utility Benchmarks Report: Data to Drive Your Utility Forward,” Brian Lindamood, VP of Marketing & Content Strategy at Questline Digital, and Nina Cummins, Account Director at Questline Digital, offered their expert analysis and key takeaways from this year’s report and the state of today’s energy consumer.

Drawing from the Data

The report includes data compiled from 367 million email messages sent on behalf of energy utilities in 2021. It invites the reader to draw their own conclusion from the data, inspecting what metrics matter most and where their utility stands among others in the industry.

The report’s key finding was that energy utilities successfully maintained the increased levels of customer engagement that were first seen in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I suspected that I would be sitting here, a year later, explaining that engagement went down in 2021 because of the spike in 2020,” Lindamood said. “But it didn’t. Engagement was flat in 2021, but it was flat at record-high levels. That increase in digital engagement was not a blip, it’s a new and lasting expectation that customers have.”

Overall, municipal utilities achieved the highest open rate increase and co-ops gained the highest click rates of any utility type.

Example statistics from 2022 Energy Utility Benchmarks

Update on Apple Privacy Changes

Due to Apple privacy changes, the 2022 Energy Utility Benchmarks Report may be the last annual report to classify open rate as a major indicator of engagement.

Lindamood explained that the Apple privacy policy implemented in the latter half of 2021 had slight impacts on engagement at the end of the year, including:

  • 11% increase in open rates since September 2021
  • 34% of opens flagged as “machine read”

Lindamood expects the Apple privacy changes to make a larger impact in 2022. In the meantime, he suggests that the industry move toward analyzing other key metrics instead, including click click-through rates and conversion rates, for a more effective way of evaluating engagement.

“The bottom line is we can’t rely on open rates anymore. Period,” Lindamood said. “Much more important are click-through rates and conversion rates — the actions customers take after opening a message.”

Metric Breakdowns Per Category

The 2022 Energy Utility Benchmarks Report addresses key data points for energy utilities to analyze and compare their own performance to others in the industry. Questline Digital’s speakers walked through some main highlights of the report, including:

  • Welcome Series
  • Program Promotions
  • Business Customer Engagement

Welcome Series

Welcome Series saw an extraordinary jump in open rates, with an overall 16% increase. This continues to prove that customers want and expect a warm welcome from their utility upon starting service. It’s imperative utilities make a good first impression and provide customers with need-to-know information like how to sign up for My Account, paperless billing and more.

Subject lines in particular play a large role in determining whether customers engage with a Welcome Series. Many of the top performing subject lines include the utility name, which consistently draws engagement from its readers.

“What we have seen in the past is that customers who engage with a Welcome Series tend to be a lot more active with follow-up communications,” Cummins said. “So really grabbing that customer when they first sign up for service is a way to get them in your fold.”

Program Promotions

Rebate promotions had a sharp increase in engagement last year. Between 2020 and 2021 there was a 188% increase in CTOR for appliance rebate promotions.

Cummins explained that this increase is due to a desire for customers to develop more energy efficient homes. In fact, research finds that 56% of consumers find it “very important” to have an energy efficient home, but only 9% think their home is energy efficient.

“With a rise in home improvement projects during the pandemic, consumers were turning to their utility for advice and guidance to replace old appliances and the appliance rebate recycling programs helped to lead them there,” said Cummins.

Example statistics from 2022 Energy Utility Benchmarks

Business Customer Engagement  

The 2022 Energy Utility Benchmarks Report revealed a split in business customer engagement: Key Account engagement decreased while Small and Medium Businesses (SMB) engagement increased.

  • 17.7% decrease in open rate for Key Accounts
  • 10.8% increase in open rate for SMB

As all business customers faced new challenges during the pandemic — with many large businesses still determining return-to-office plans — SMB customers more often turned to their energy provider for support and guidance.

“This is at least in part due to the different ways businesses have responded to the pandemic,” Lindamood said. “Small business customers needed a lot of assistance, especially early on in the pandemic. And in addition to the government support programs that were available, they may have been reaching out to their utility for payment programs, efficiency advice or other ways to save. Large businesses didn’t qualify for as much of the federal aid that was available, and yet many are still dealing with the effects of the pandemic.”

Lindamood suggests using segmentation to communicate with Key Accounts customers by industry type. This ensures these time-strapped customers receive targeted, relevant information, which can make a large impact on engagement and performance metrics.

Example statistic from 2022 Energy Utility Benchmarks

Data to Drive Your Utility Forward

Questline Digital’s 2022 Energy Utility Benchmarks Report provides a guide for measuring and comparing digital engagement performance across the industry. The data can assist your utility in understanding how to build stronger connections with customers and evaluate the success of your engagement strategy.

Learn more about Questline Digital’s 2022 Energy Utility Benchmarks Report.

Looking to improve digital customer engagement? Behavioral emails could be your answer.

With 75% of emails going unopened on average, your energy utility must work to send customers the emails they want to read. Behavioral sends give customers what they want when they want it.

What Is a Behavioral Email?

Behavioral emails are automated or planned email sends that are triggered by actions taken or not taken by a customer. Instead of interruption or push marketing where brands put messages in front of consumers who may or may not be interested, behavioral targeting builds on pre-determined actions and demonstrated customer interests. This gives customers exactly what they want or need.

Is Behavioral Marketing the Same as Segmentation?

Segmentation refers to building marketing campaigns for specific audiences so you can speak to their unique needs and interests. Segmentation is often done with demographic data or personas. Not all segmentation efforts are classified as behavioral, but all behavioral emails can be considered segmented. Behavioral segmentation is the sorting of people into groups based on actions they take or don’t take.

Why Should You Use Behavioral Emails?

Targeted, personalized messages have the power to transform your energy utility into a trusted partner and resource. Setting up behavior-based email campaigns can help you reach customers when they are ready to engage with you or need your help most.

Data from MailChimp shows that on average, segmented campaigns result in 23% higher open rates and 49% higher click-through rates than unsegmented campaigns.

Questline Digital’s Benchmarks data supports MailChimp’s findings, showing that when energy utilities segment eNewsletters for small businesses they see a vast improvement in customer engagement. Year over year, utilities saw:

  • 11.2% more opens
  • 45.8% improvement in click-to-open rates (CTOR)
  • 62.1% improvement in click-through rates (CTR)

As explained above, behavioral emails take segmentation even further, speaking not only to specific needs and interests, but providing that information exactly when customers need it. Essentially, the right message at the right time.

This is why behavioral emails perform better than promotional marketing emails. According to the Direct Marketing Association, over 75% of email revenue is generated by triggered emails.

Triggers for Behavioral Emails

Actions taken within marketing campaigns are the best triggers for behavioral emails. While actions like signing up for service or making a purchase can trigger automated email sends that are by definition considered behavioral, the largest impact can be made when sending follow-up emails based on clicks or opens.

Triggers for behavioral sends:

  • Open, no click
  • Click but didn’t convert
  • Didn’t open

You can set up automated workflows that follow if/then logic based on the listed actions above. Or if you’re unable to build sophisticated systems, use behavioral lists. Simply remove those contacts that don’t fit the chosen criteria and send targeted follow-up communications.

7 Behavioral Email Examples for Energy Utilities

Energy utilities can take advantage of triggered emails in a variety of ways. Here are seven behavioral email examples to help inspire your customer communications:

1. Welcome series

The most common type of behavioral email is the onboarding message. The action of signing up for service naturally prompts the need for communication. A series of welcome emails establishes a flow of information, helping customers make the most of their new account right away. This can be automated to launch immediately when people sign up for service or be sent every week to new contacts, depending on your email capabilities.

2. Program enrollment

When promoting program or paperless billing enrollment, you can use behavioral emails to further prompt customers who don’t act. If a customer clicks into your paperless billing email but doesn’t enroll, you can send a behavioral email with a different subject line, CTA or hero image. They showed interest but may need different information to take action.

Similarly, if your campaign features a time-sensitive sweepstakes or promotion, a behavioral follow-up with “don’t miss out” or “limited time only” messaging can motivate customers who previously haven’t responded to finally act. 

3. Utility marketplace

Many energy utilities are now utilizing abandoned cart emails that are popular in the retail industry. These emails are automatically triggered when a customer leaves an energy utility’s marketplace without completing a purchase. Abandoned cart emails can tout the benefits of the product not yet purchased or include a modest coupon code to further entice customers to complete their purchase.

Another idea is sending a product recommendation email after a customer makes a purchase to encourage them to shop again. When you know what customers have already purchased, you can predict what they will buy or need next and make helpful recommendations. This is a tactic that Amazon uses, with 35% of its sales directly attributed to making product suggestions based on past behaviors.

Your energy utility can also benefit from following up with useful tips on how to make the most of a recent purchase. A triggered content email that explains how to use a smart thermostat after one is purchased from your marketplace can go a long way in helping customers enjoy their new product.

4. Activity reports

You likely already have this type of behavioral email in place. Each month you may send customers payment confirmation emails or energy usage summary reports. Both are considered behavior sends because they are triggered by actions taken by the customer.

5. Web views

With proper tracking and systems in place, you can see when customers view specific pages or products on your website. If you find that a customer is viewing multiple pieces of content related to renewable energy, you can build an automated email or email series that is triggered to send after a specific number of views. This allows you to automatically send them communications that answer common questions about the topics they are researching.

6. Engagement

Take action on customers who don’t regularly open emails. For example, if a customer doesn’t open their eNewsletter for six months, you can set up an automated re-engagement campaign to encourage them to update their email preferences and subscriptions.

7. Service

When you complete a customer service call, send an automated email that asks for customer feedback. Get feedback in real-time when memories are fresh so you can take appropriate action and keep customers happy. Not to mention, capture the positive service wins of your employees.

7 More Behavioral Email Examples

Triggered emails are used by marketers in all industries, but retailers and ecommerce brands tend to lead the pack. Check out the behavioral email examples below.

1. Abercrombie & Fitch

After a customer viewed loungewear on the Abercrombie & Fitch site, but took no action, the retailer sent a behavioral follow-up that encouraged the shopper to “take another peak.”

Example of behavioral email sent by Abercrombie

2. Section 119

Or this example from Section 119. The retailer followed up on a web visit with the simple question, “Where’d you go?” and offered up related products to encourage more sales, adding a sense of urgency around merchandise availability.

Example of behavioral email sent by Sec 119

3. Utility customer satisfaction survey

Getting customer feedback is essential. But when sending J.D. Power survey requests, it’s unrealistic to expect one email to garner maximum participation. To increase the likelihood of getting feedback Questline Digital helped one of our clients to set up reminder emails to send to customers who didn’t open or click previous messages.

Behavioral email example of utility sending customer satisfaction survey

4. Questline Digital

Here is a behavioral email example that Questline Digital uses in our own email marketing efforts. When a recipient opens an email about our upcoming webinar but doesn’t register, we trigger another email to send a few days later, encouraging them to finish signing up.

Behavioral email example of Questline webinar promotion

5. Homage

Post-purchase follow-up is a common use for triggered emails. Check this behavioral email example from Homage. After a customer purchased a gift card, they emailed to see how the experience went. They also made suggestions for future purchases and invited the customer to join them on social media.

Example of behavioral email from Homage clothing retailer

6. Amazon

Here’s an incredibly simple behavioral email example from Amazon. Users with a wedding registry receive a promo code one week after their wedding date. Fully automated, this email prompts additional sales at the exact moment the newly married couple has extra cash in hand from wedding gifts.

Example of behavioral email from Amazon wedding registry

7. Grist

Welcome emails classify as behavioral sends. Post signing up for an eNewsletter with Grist, subscribers receive the following email with information on what to expect next and how to update their preferences.

Behavioral email example from Grist magazine

Getting Started with Behavioral Emails

Could your energy utility’s program promotions benefit from the addition of behavioral emails? If you’re not doing them already, the answer is yes. Building automated email sends and/or setting up manual workflows based on customer actions is one of the best ways to boost email engagement and program participation.

Learn how Questline Digital can elevate your digital customer relationships with behavioral email marketing.

Natasha Contreras is the epitome of a jack of all trades, having held roles on multiple teams at San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) including IT, project management and marketing. Currently EV Customer Engagement Manager for the utility, Contreras now focuses her efforts on educating the community on going electric.

Contreras joined SDG&E straight out of college. What began as an interim position as a contractor became a full-time opportunity as Contreras volunteered for new initiatives and moved her way up the company. She worked in project management for her first five years before moving into her marketing role to promote clean transportation.

Headshot photo of Natasha Contreras for Energy Spotlight interview

“Utilities are a little bit slower on the uptake picking up some of the systems because everything that we do is so compliance-focused, we’re highly regulated and there are so many privacy concerns,” Contreras explains. “So, it takes a little longer for us to catch up to some of those types of technology, but I think that’s helped me to learn holistically how the utility industry functions.”

When she joined the clean transportation team, the group consisted of 12 people. Now, she says, the evolution has been incredible, growing to over 30 people with Contreras managing a team of 12.

It’s been four years since Contreras started with the team. She says their priorities are two-fold:

  1. Educate customers of the benefits of electric vehicles, and
  2. Educate customers on the utility’s role as a facilitator and advisor.

Contreras has been accomplishing this through their LOVELECTRIC campaign, which is designed to break myths about EVs through educational materials for customers, dealerships and charging providers.

Contreras’ team is also focused on ensuring equitable opportunities for their customers. They are dedicated to sharing resources about funding and grants and ensuring their materials are easy to understand for all customers, including adding multilingual resources to accommodate the large Spanish-speaking population in San Diego. Contreras herself was born in Russia and moved to the United States at 10 years old. Russian is her first language, so she uses that as a guide to make sure the materials they create are universally understood.

In addition, Contreras’ work includes outreach both in-person and virtually to connect with customers about EVs. Before the pandemic, they hosted 75 events a year to allow people to test drive EVs and ask questions. As the pandemic took its toll, those events dropped to zero. Instead of pushing people to buy EVs, Contreras and her team shifted their messaging to concentrate on customers who were currently driving an EV or planned to buy one.

Although it wasn’t her first choice for work, Contreras has grown to love working in the utility industry. “I by chance ended up in the clean transportation group. I didn’t come into this group with a passion for environmental justice and getting more EVs in the world,” she says. “But now, to me, I have the best job in the world. I get to be creative every day and work with so many interesting dealers and groups of people, getting to do all these fun things to educate the community about EVs. My passion is being creative and that’s exactly what I get to do here.”

Outside of work, Contreras enjoys traveling and staying active, hiking trails or visiting the beach with her two Yorkies, Chloe and Celine.

Questline Digital spoke with Contreras to get her thoughts on innovative ways to connect with customers, changes in the utility industry and thought-provoking marketing campaigns.

How did you get started in the energy utility industry?

I graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in Marketing and Communications during the recession, in 2009. My dreams of going into advertising and living out my full Mad Men life were quickly brought to reality with the lack of work availability.

I started my role at San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) thinking it was an interim position — something to hold me over while the market picked back up and the marketing agencies started hiring again. I distinctly remember onboarding in my first role at the company, as a Business Systems Analyst, and talking to my coworkers that referred to themselves as “lifers.” I thought to myself, there’s no way that’s going to be me — I couldn’t fathom staying at the same company for any longer than just a few years.

Well, since then, the economy picked up, and then crashed again (a few times, at that). I had plenty of opportunities to move on to other companies, but I chose to pave my own pathway at SDG&E, volunteering for different projects and initiatives. Twelve years later, I am still here, and I can truly say, I love what I do.

What has changed the most about your job working in the utility industry over the course of your career?

I feel like a lot has changed since I started working at the utility over a decade ago. Perhaps it was because I was inexperienced and green, but the thought of working for a gas and electric company back then didn’t seem very exciting. It is fascinating to think back over the last 10 years or so and observe the progress that has been made. While the priority for the company remains to be clean, safe and reliable, the concept of innovation and technology has certainly dominated my sphere as time went on.

One of the things I love most about working for a company of this size is that there are so many opportunities to broaden your skill sets in various areas. While my passion has always revolved around the creative space, I found ways to incorporate those talents into my day-to-day work.

Through the years, I transitioned between the IT space, to project management, to business process to change management, and finally landed where I am today — the clean transportation space, where I thrive from coming up with creative ideas on how to engage with our customers and generate awareness about the benefits of driving electric.

What excites you the most about the energy utility space?

The endless opportunities! I work for a group that is truly on the brink of the next frontier. We are changing the way people travel! I couldn’t think of anything more exciting.

Change is frightening and it’s happening quickly. I lead a team of passionate individuals, tasked with the vision to reimagine transportation. There are not enough hours in the day to keep up with the new technologies that are coming to the market. We have made it our goal to be our customers’ trusted advisor. To take the overwhelming amount of information about the available clean transportation options and condense them down to something that is easily digestible.

I also love the opportunities to network with so many other companies and individuals in this industry. Whether it’s checking out the newest EV models that are coming to the market or learning about new innovative charging methods that can dispatch excess energy back to the grid, I feel like I learn something new every single day, and I love knowing that I’m not going to get bored at work any time soon.

What campaign or initiative are you most proud of?

I can honestly say that our current LOVELECTRIC campaign is what I’m most proud of so far in my career. It’s relatable, empathetic and funny. We are in the business of myth-busting. Driving electric — what’s not to love? No more oil changes. No more worrying about rising gas prices. Smooth rides and sounds of silence. How many more reasons do you need?

We’re teaching our customers that they can help save the environment and experience the thrill of clean living when they drive an electric vehicle. Falling in love has never been easier. It’s time to LOVELECTRIC.

What’s a marketing campaign you wish you’d thought of (inside or outside the energy industry)?

There are so many good ones! I love watching the Super Bowl every year solely for the commercials. I tend to lean toward humor, and to me, GEICO always knocks it out of the park and I find myself laughing out loud. On the same token, this Orbit Gum commercial was hilarious and definitely got my attention.

Probably the most relevant example I can think of was the Audi e-tron campaign from 2018. They were one of the first OEMs to make a strong push for EVs in the mass media and I definitely found myself pulling ideas for our own campaign from their “myth-busting” strategy.

What is the hardest part of working in the energy industry today?

The energy industry has definitely evolved over the last decade and turned into an innovative technology space. It’s exciting to see what the Elon Musks of the world are coming up with to push the needle.

That said, one of the hardest parts of working in this industry today is keeping the balance between the possibilities of the future and the reliability of the day-to-day operations. The impacts of the pandemic have taken a toll on almost every industry over the last two years, and the energy industry is no exception. We have to stay mindful in our messaging — continue to innovate while ensuring that all our customers have equitable access to our offerings.

Finish this sentence: If I weren’t working in the utility industry, I would be…

Doing my same job anywhere. While I mentioned above that I have truly come to love working for the utility, at my core, my passion is being creative. And I feel like I can transfer this skill set to any industry. Marketing, communications and project management are universal skills — you just have to find something that excites you!

How do you anticipate the world of energy evolving in the coming years?

There are so many exciting things on the horizon! New technologies are paving the way to a more efficient, sustainable future. I’m looking forward to the next few decades — to a time when pumping gas will be the anomaly rather than driving electric, and to cool concepts like autonomous electric vehicles that will be charged wirelessly.

I love the feasibility of connecting and building partnerships with contacts across the country, and at this point, the whole world. The virtual environment has given everyone access to network with whoever we want, and I anticipate that we are going to continue finding efficiencies and developing the industry quicker.

What advice would you give to those entering the utility space?

My advice is to have an open mind. The possibilities are endless. I don’t think I would have considered the utility to be an innovative technology company back when I was first starting. But that has changed, and my eyes have been opened to think big and constantly pitch new ideas, and I encourage everyone to do the same. Just because something has been done one way forever, doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.

Participation in Questline Digital’s Energy Spotlight series does not indicate an endorsement from utility partners.

In Questline Digital’s Plugged In webinar, “How to Market Paperless Billing to Customers,” Senior Copywriter Breanne George and Creative Director Joe Pifher shared their insights and advice for creating successful promotions that encourage customers to switch to paperless billing.

In order to reach your program goals, your energy utility needs to understand your customers and their motivations. In doing so, you will be able to segment and promote your paperless billing program with effective messaging.

Use the right message to make them switch

In order to know what type of paperless billing campaign is right for your energy utility, you must first understand your customers. The right paperless message is personalized to your target audience.

Ask yourself this: How will paperless billing make your customers’ lives easier? To help answer this question, get to know your customers:

  • What are their needs, wants and interests?
  • What are their challenges or barriers to adoption?
  • What do their day-to-day lives look like?
  • What are their values and motivations?

George suggested a few ways to encourage the switch to paperless billing, based on successful campaigns she has worked on for energy utilities across the nation.

  • Showcase how paperless billing fits into your customers’ daily lives. This could be as simple as how your customers get to work. For example, if customers often commute on a train or subway, easy access on-the-go would be an important benefit to showcase in your paperless campaign.
  • Try easy and convenient enrollment options. Customers like simplicity – make signing up for paperless as easy as one-click enrollment and your conversion rates can increase dramatically.

Customer motivations drive eBill enrollment

Often customers who don’t switch to paperless billing have one of three reasons for not doing so. They may fear that…

  • Enrollment will take too long, and they don’t have the time
  • Going paperless will mean they won’t have statements for their records
  • They’ll be more likely to forget a payment if they switch to digital

To combat these concerns, your energy utility should relay the top paperless benefits for customers:

  • Simple – easy to manage and pay from anywhere
  • Convenient – saves time and fits the customers’ on-the-go lifestyle
  • Affordable – no need to buy stamps or worry about late fees
  • Eco-friendly – use less paper and reduce environmental footprint
  • Reliable – never forget or lose track of a bill again
  • Secure – safely manage statements and payments online

Business and residential customers have very different needs, so segmenting these audiences is encouraged. When it comes to paperless billing, business customers value:

  • Easy access to past bills and usage history
  • 24/7 bill availability when they are out and about
  • Less paper clutter in their office

Encourage multiple generations to switch to paperless billing

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the digital age of TikTok and Twitter, but when it comes to Millennials and Gen-Zers, George says email is still a viable option for these younger generations.

In fact, she shared that nearly 75% of millennials and 58% of Gen-Zers check their emails multiple times a day. However, they have a 12- and 8-second attention span, respectively, so it’s important to connect with these customers through storytelling rather than with overly promotional copy.

When it comes to older generations, Questline Digital often sees the biggest concerns related to payment security or having records on hand. George suggests “speaking to their concerns first.” Reinforce the safety of paperless billing and how it is often more secure than dropping a check in the mail. It’s also important to show them how to retrieve records of their past bills with a simple click.

Design best practices to boost campaign performance

The next step following great copy is great design. Pifher, Questline Digital’s Creative Director, shared the email best practices to consider for your creative campaign. These tips include having a message hierarchy, keeping a clear and active CTA and ensuring the email is mobile-friendly.

It’s also imperative for your energy utility to use the right imagery. You want the image to be relatable to customers, eye-catching and relevant. Pifher stressed the importance of looking at your specific audience demographics to determine the visual elements of your campaign:

  • People – age, gender, race, socioeconomic status
  • Region-specific – weather, transportation, landscape
  • Customer interests – sports, local spots, the environment, values and motivations

Pifher suggests utilities design around the inverted triangle strategy: grabbing a customers’ attention at the top, building anticipation in the headline and first few sentences and then taking them to the call-to-action. There should be plenty of white space throughout the design. Ensure the email is easy for customers to scan with the use of bullets or icons.

Incentives add value to eBill sign-ups

Pifher recommends testing incentives in your campaigns to encourage more people to switch to paperless billing. Customers often enjoy being rewarded, even if the incentive is small in value.

Questline Digital’s performance metrics show smaller, immediate rewards perform better than enter-to-win sweepstakes. However, it’s important to test large and small incentives with your target audience.

Pifher also says that by developing not just a single email, but also web banner ads, social posts, direct mail inserts and more, your energy utility is able to reach customers no matter which channel they prefer to use.

The impact of coronavirus on paperless promotions

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted every aspect of people’s lives, including how they get mail or pay bills. Before the pandemic, a large push for paperless billing was the “on-the-go, anytime, anywhere” messaging. Now, Pifher says customers are looking for more convenient ways to pay bills and messaging has turned to “on the couch or in bed, anytime, anywhere” messaging.

The importance of “no touch” payments and a focus on decluttering paper bills became more important benefits of paperless billing for customers. In addition, the pandemic has simply shown the importance of adaptation — whether due to major pandemics or simply customer interests changing. The ability to shift focus at a moment’s notice is an important skill to have when developing campaigns. 

Successful campaigns require more than a simple email

As these insights show, there are many aspects to a successful paperless billing campaign. Between knowing your customers, segmenting messages based on their needs, motivating customers through diligent copy and creative design, connecting through an omnichannel approach and adapting for current environments, there is more involved to reach conversion goals than a simple email.

Equipped with these copy and design best practices, revisit your paperless billing campaign strategy to achieve your energy utility’s conversion goals.

Help more customers switch to paperless billing with an eBill marketing campaign from Questline Digital.

The benefits of choosing paperless billing may be obvious to you. But your customers may not understand these benefits, or they may not be properly incentivized to give up paper bills and make the switch. Follow these e billing best practices to improve your energy utility’s e bill marketing and boost conversion rates.

Infographic listing best practices for energy utility paperless billing promotions

E billing best practice #1: Focus on personal benefits for customers

Your messaging should help customers understand the benefits of paperless billing and overcome potential barriers that might stand in the way of adoption. The most successful messages speak directly to the customer, use personal language (“you”) and address the ways that paperless billing makes everyday life easier. Focus on solving problems, not just offering a new payment option.

In Questline Digital’s experience creating paperless conversion campaigns for energy utilities, the benefits that most appeal to customers are: 

  • Simple; easy to manage and pay from anywhere
  • Affordable; no need to buy stamps or worry about late fees
  • Convenient; saves time and fits into your on-the-go lifestyle
  • Eco-friendly; reduce your environmental footprint by using less paper
  • Reliable; never forget or lose track of a bill again
  • Secure; safely manage statements and payments online

E billing best practice #2: Drive opens with effective subject lines

The best email subject lines are upbeat, active and strike a personal tone while encouraging the customer to open the message. Short subject lines are best for capturing the attention of residential customers. Questline Digital data shows that subject lines with 40 to 50 characters perform best.

According to metrics from the many paperless billing campaigns Questline Digital has deployed for energy utilities, the top-performing subject line was, “You’ve got eBill and a $10 gift card.” This campaign achieved a 77% open rate, compared to 21% for the average campaign.

E billing best practice #3: Attract attention with compelling incentives

Incentives pay off in paperless billing campaigns, enticing customers with the promise of a contest prize or financial benefit. Not only do incentives boost email open rates, but incentives also increase conversions.

The most successful incentives are small giveaways awarded to everyone who signs up for paperless billing (including LED lightbulbs and $5 gift cards). Contest entries that award a single large prize (such as $1,000 cash or major league sports tickets) have been less successful.

Offering an incentive pays off with higher conversion rates (and by reaching participation goals more quickly). Paperless billing campaigns that award an incentive achieve a 34% conversion rate on average. In comparison, campaigns with no incentive achieve a 23% conversion rate on average.

Example of e-billing best practice incentive campaign

E billing best practice #4: Use segmentation

The same message or incentive is unlikely to work with all customers. Instead, your utility should segment customers into groups and build campaigns that speak to the specific concerns of each audience.

McKinsey’s Next in Personalization 2021 Report shares that, “71% of consumers expect companies to deliver personalized interactions. And 76% get frustrated when this doesn’t happen.” Furthermore, McKinsey shares that companies that excel at personalization generate 40% more revenue from those activities than those who don’t.

As this data showcases, personalization is a must-do e billing best practice. Here are several ways you can segment your paperless promotion emails:

  • People who pay online but still get paper statements
  • Follow up with those who didn’t complete e bill signup
  • Eco-friendly message to EV customers
  • Convenience message to busy professionals and parents
  • Security message to older audiences or customers with smart security systems
  • Decluttering and convenience message to small business owners

E billing best practice #5: Don’t forget about design

You want the imagery in your e bill promotions to be relatable to customers, eye-catching and relevant. Consider your specific audience demographics and build in visual elements that help customers see themselves in your campaigns.

  • People – age, gender, race, socioeconomic status
  • Region-specific – weather, transportation, landscape, city landmarks
  • Customer interests – sports, culture, the environment, value and motivations

For example, Questline Digital worked with the Pittsburgh electric utility Duquesne Light to alter imagery to represent Steelers and Penguins sports team colors. This small alteration made the email campaign more relatable to the group of recipients.

How you display these images also matters. Consider designing around the inverted triangle strategy, grabbing a customers’ attention at the top, building anticipation in the headline and first few sentences and then taking them to the call-to-action.

To ensure the email is easy for customers to read, there should be plenty of white space throughout the design, clear line breaks and adequate use of bullets or icons.

Example of e-billing best practice email design

E billing best practice #6: Incorporate with onboarding 

It can be difficult to encourage customers to switch their behaviors, even when there are clear benefits or reasons to do so. Humans are creatures of habit and change isn’t easy.

Get customers enrolled in e billing on day one. Share electronic payment options at the start of service so you don’t have to convince customers to change later. Include prompts in onboarding materials and welcome emails, or run e billing campaigns at the beginning of the customer lifecycle.

E billing best practice #7: Try an opt-out campaign

Rather than asking customers to sign up, automatically enroll them in e bill and give them an opportunity to opt-out. If you take this approach, ensure you have adequate communication that keeps customers informed.

For example, Questline Digital ran an opt-out campaign with a Southeast utility. We targeted customers who received both a paper and e bill, but who had made at least one electronic payment in the past. This audience segment was automatically enrolled in the program but given the chance to opt-out and continue receiving paper bills. The opt-out campaign received positive customer feedback, with 90% of customers remaining enrolled. 

E billing best practice #8: Make enrollment simple

Customers abandon complicated digital processes. In fact, a study by Splitit showed that 87% of online shoppers abandon their carts during the checkout if the process is too long or complicated. Signing up for paperless billing is no different – customers want frictionless digital experiences.

Remove as many steps as possible for your customers. One effective way to do this is by auto filling forms with dynamic coding.

Questline Digital worked with PSE&G to set up one-click enrollment, making the sign-up process as easy as possible. Customers who clicked on the call-to-action within an email campaign were automatically taken to a landing page to confirm their information in a prepopulated form and enroll in paperless billing. The ease of one-click signup encouraged customers to make the switch, enrolling 21,945 customers.

E billing best practice #9: Use a multichannel approach 

Unfortunately, you can’t rely on email to convert all your customers. To get the best possible results, your utility will need to employ a multichannel approach and spread out the heavy lifting.

Complement your email campaigns with channels like direct mail, social media, outdoor signage and online advertisements. Your customers may need to see your message multiple times before they act. If you can get in front of customers via multiple mediums, they’re more likely to convert.

E billing best practice #10: Launch deeper digital customer relationships

Paperless billing conversions create an opportunity for long-term engagement by cementing the customer’s digital relationship with their energy provider. Once converted, paperless billing subscribers are more engaged with email communications and less likely to unsubscribe compared to customers who receive paper bills.

Before converting to paperless, energy utility customers have an average email open rate of 25%, according to Questline Digital performance metrics. After converting, paperless billing customers have an average open rate of 33%.

This higher engagement rate is an opportunity to connect with customers beyond their monthly e bill — sharing program promotions, energy efficiency advice and other educational content. By following these e billing best practices and boosting conversion rates, you can reduce operational costs and build long-lasting relationships between your energy utility and its customers.

Convert more customers to paperless billing

Converting customers to e bill doesn’t have to be difficult. Employ these e billing best practices and realize the many benefits of going paperless.

Learn how Questline Digital’s paperless billing solution and help your energy utility reach your e bill conversion goals.