Effective communication has become more important than ever for utility marketers. To truly connect with customers, water and energy providers must adopt an outreach strategy that goes beyond a simple, one-time approach.

In fact, it takes five to seven interactions for a customer just to remember a brand. An effective communications strategy requires a consistent series of touchpoints that work together to build trust, loyalty and familiarity over time.

The key to success lies in maintaining consistency in utility customer communications. By establishing regular and reliable interactions, utilities can cultivate trust and loyalty. This forms the foundation of a genuine digital relationship, leading to a multitude of benefits.

The Benefits of Enhanced Communication with Utility Customers

Consistency in utility customer communications cannot be overlooked. The benefits of such an approach are substantial, including:

  • Stronger digital customer relationships
  • Increased customer control in decision-making
  • Enhanced operational efficiencies and reduced costs
  • Increased customer retention and loyalty
  • Boost in brand awareness and reputation
Chart listing the benefits of consistent utility communications

Building strong digital customer relationships

Prioritizing consistent utility customer communication is essential for fostering a strong digital relationship. By regularly sharing relevant information, your utility can keep customers informed and engaged on your utility’s services and operations.

Brian Lindamood, VP of Marketing and Content Strategy at Questline Digital, emphasizes the importance of maintaining consistency in order to build strong digital relationships with customers. “Merely reaching out to customers when there is a need does not constitute a true relationship,” says Lindamood. “To form strong digital relationships, utility companies must consistently deliver proactive messages that align with customers’ interests and needs.”

Ensuring regular delivery of relevant and personalized content is vital for building and maintaining a strong digital relationship with customers. By consistently providing valuable information, you establish yourself as a reliable source they can turn to. This not only keeps your utility’s audience engaged but also allows them to foster a deeper connection with your brand.

One way to foster engagement is through consistent touchpoints like newsletters. Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) achieved increased engagement and participation in its energy efficiency programs by doing just this. The utility established a monthly residential email newsletter that included educational content for customers, plus information on the utility’s programs. By maintaining this consistent digital relationship, SWEPCO saw a substantial increase in customer engagement and satisfaction.

Increased customer control in decision-making

When it comes to utility services, the complexity and unfamiliarity of industry jargon can often leave customers feeling confused and frustrated.

Regular communication with utility customers is crucial in helping educate them and improve understanding of programs and new technologies. As customer education increases, the more empowered they’ll feel to take control of their energy and water usage. This can be achieved by providing educational resources that allow customers to stay updated with the latest trends, important news, billing updates, rate options, program promotions and more.

When customers are well-informed about their utility’s offerings, they have the confidence to select programs and services that best suit their needs and goals. This not only benefits the customers but also strengthens the relationship between the utility and its customers, fostering trust and loyalty.

Enhanced operational efficiencies and reduced costs

By streamlining communication channels and processes, utilities can eliminate inefficiencies and minimize the risk of miscommunication. This not only saves time but also reduces operational costs, allowing utilities to allocate resources more effectively.

Sarah Sharp, Business Development Consultant with Questline Digital, says, “There is a lot of information to communicate for utility customers, so it is important to minimize jargon and send information when it is most relevant.”

Well-informed customers are less likely to phone a call center, and when they do have questions they will know where to find answers using digital resources. A consistent digital relationship also drives adoption of programs like paperless billing and autopay, further reducing operational costs for utilities.

Pull quote about the importance of consistency in utility customer communications

Increased customer retention and loyalty

Maintaining consistent communication with utility customers enables utilities to position themselves as trusted community resources. “Building trust is the most crucial element in customer communications,” says Sharp.” If people don’t trust you, they won’t listen to you.”

In building trust, customers will know that they can turn to their utilities for guidance on their energy and water usage, cost-saving tips, programs to participate in, and more.

Consistent outreach also raises the visibility of the utility across different touchpoints. “Customers are receiving information in many different channels. When it comes to omnichannel communication, it is crucial to be consistent between channels,” says Sharp. This means ensuring your messages are consistent in tone and language, as well as being delivered in the channels customers expect to receive communications in.

Boost in brand awareness and reputation

Through consistent messaging across channels, utilities can reach a wider audience and showcase their commitment to customer satisfaction. This increased visibility and positive reputation can build new customer relationships and strengthen existing ones.

One way to demonstrate this commitment is to focus on proactive communications versus reactive communications. For example, informing customers about potential outages during storm season can help them be better prepared, even if an outage doesn’t occur. This proactive approach not only builds trust but also highlights the utility’s dedication to keeping customers informed and supported.

One major investor-owned utility in the Northeast focused on these types of communications to ensure customers received timely updates ahead of forecasted storms. By leveraging pre-built email templates, the utility was able to quickly deploy messages with information regarding the projection of the storm, as well as highlighting self-service resources customers could use to stay connected.

Best Practices to Ensure Consistent Communications with Utility Customers

Consistency in customer communication plays a pivotal role in a utility’s outreach strategy, but it can come with challenges as well. Here are two ways to foster success.

Conduct regular training and upskilling programs for employees

Providing regular training and upskilling programs for employees helps them develop strong communication skills and stay updated with industry trends. This ensures that all customer-facing employees are equipped to effectively communicate with customers.

For example, with limited resources and a small training team, one Southeast utility faced challenges in educating its customer-facing employees to address customer questions. To combat this challenge, the utility leveraged monthly training webinars that were customized to meet the needs of the account managers, who were then better prepared to engage with customers.

Leverage marketing automation tools

Customers want a seamless experience from start to finish, and that’s not possible unless employees have the resources they need to quickly and easily communicate with them. By managing their customer interactions with automation tools, utilities can ensure timely outreach that meets customer expectations from beginning to end.

A Midwest energy utility integrated a customer relationship management (CRM) tool to replace their traditional way of deploying emails. Questline Digital’s Engage platform enabled the utility to manage and send quick-turn communications to its customers, using pre-approved templates and centralized customer lists. As a result, the utility successfully sent nearly 3.7 million operational emails, facilitating a seamless and timely customer experience.

Harness the Power of Consistency in Utility Customer Communications

Consistent communication with utility customers brings numerous benefits, such as improved customer satisfaction and loyalty, enhanced operational efficiency and increased brand awareness. By implementing consistent communication strategies and leveraging appropriate tools, energy utilities can establish themselves as trusted advisors while delivering exceptional customer experiences.

Learn how Questline Digital can help your utility deliver consistent customer communications and build stronger digital relationships.

With the proliferation of digital media and communication channels, capturing the attention of utility customers is more challenging than ever. As businesses compete for attention, one tool has risen above the rest in its ability to engage and captivate: personalized video. Recognized for their unique ability to connect with viewers on a deeper level, personalized videos are revolutionizing the way we communicate with customers.

Imagine opening an email from your favorite company. Instead of a generic message, there’s a video made just for you. It addresses you by name, discusses your unique needs, and offers tailored discounts or information for products that you’re interested in.

As futuristic as it may sound, the reality is that personalized video is available now, and many companies are already embracing this powerful marketing tactic.

“Personalized video combines the entertainment value of video marketing with the data-driven targeting of other digital tactics,” says Brian Lindamood, Questline Digital’s VP of Marketing and Content Strategy. “The ability of a video message to speak directly to each customer leverages all the best aspects of digital engagement in a uniquely powerful way.”

Personalized videos can lead to higher retention and conversion rates, as well as increased customer engagement. In fact, data shows that using personalized calls-to-actions (CTAs) result in 202% more conversions than those without. Building on the success seen in other industries, utilities can now harness this tool foster stronger relationships and drive customer satisfaction.

The Emergence of Personalized Videos

The rise of video marketing is hardly surprising given its unique ability to convey complex messages succinctly, evoke emotions and create a sense of connection. Data shows that 80% of customers are more likely to purchase from a brand that provides these tailored, emotional experiences. Today, video is not just an add-on to a digital marketing strategy, it’s an essential component that can significantly enhance your utility’s visibility and impact.

Quotation from Adobe - Personalized videos get 16x more click-throughs compared to non-personalized videos

One facet of video marketing that’s gaining widespread popularity is personalization. By tailoring messages to each customer, businesses can make customers feel more valued and recognized. Personalized videos leverage customer data to create a unique viewing experience for each individual. This could be as simple as addressing the viewer by name or as complex as providing product recommendations based on their interests and engagement history.

For utilities, this could mean personalized program recommendations based on a customer’s energy use, explaining changes to a bill, introducing a new rate plan, updating customers on relevant energy efficiency programs, and more.

The result? A powerful marketing tool that stands out from the digital clutter and resonates on a personal level with customers.

Several leading brands have already harnessed the power of personalized video marketing to deliver exceptional results. For example, in Nike’s “Outdo You with Nike+” campaign, the company used personalized videos to connect with customers. Each video was tailored with information from a user’s location, activity and personal Nike+ movement data, providing a unique and highly personal viewing experience. This innovative approach not only helped Nike connect with their audience, it also motivated customers to achieve their fitness goals.

Spotify’s end-of-year Wrapped campaign is described as “all about celebrating the endless ways that millions of creators and fans connect through audio each and every day.” Through the “Made for You” recommendations and usage data, Spotify is able to provide personalized videos to each user at the end of the year that allows them to view summaries of their activity. Spotify includes the names of the listener’s top musicians and songs, genres and their listening personality, all delivered in a seamless personalized video.

Why Personalized Videos? Why Now?

The sudden surge in the popularity of personalized videos can be attributed to several factors. In today’s digital age, consumers increasingly expect personalized experiences that cater to their specific needs and preferences. In fact, 71% of consumers expect companies to deliver personalized interactions, and 76% get frustrated when this doesn’t happen.

Personalized videos meet this expectation by providing content that is tailored to each viewer’s individual circumstances and preferences. Moreover, personalized videos have proven to be highly engaging and effective at increasing customer retention and conversion rates. According to Adobe, personalized videos get 16 times more click-throughs compared to non-personalized videos.

Personalized videos can also help brands stand out in the crowded digital landscape, providing a unique and highly personal viewing experience that can capture the customer’s attention and leave a lasting impression. This not only increases the likelihood of the customer taking the desired action, but also strengthens their relationship with your utility.

“Personalized videos really help utilities connect with their audience on a deeper level and drive more effective engagement,” says Lindamood. “With relevant, targeted content like this, customers can see that their utility understands and respects their preferences, which is the foundation of a successful, long-term digital relationship.”

Additionally, with the rise of digital technologies and data analytics, creating personalized videos has become more accessible and cost-effective, further contributing to their use as a key marketing tactic in a wide variety of industries.

5 Benefits of Personalized Videos

Chart listing the 5 benefits of personalized videos

Personalized videos allow utilities to connect customers with relevant information based on their interests and information. This tool also has the ability to deliver complex information, such as energy usage or billing details, in a clear, concise and engaging manner. The goal is to enhance customer understanding and interest by creating content that speaks directly to them, addressing their specific needs and circumstances.

The benefits of personalized videos for utilities are substantial, including:

  • Simplifying complex information
  • Enhancing customer engagement
  • Driving behavioral change
  • Boosting customer satisfaction
  • Building strong customer relationships

Simplifying complex information

Personalized videos are an effective tool for simplifying complex information. They leverage the power of visualization to break down intricate concepts or data sets into digestible, easy-to-understand content.

For example, your utility can use a personalized video to explain a customer’s energy usage pattern or billing details, using animated charts and customer-specific data. This not only makes the content more relatable but also helps customers better understand their consumption patterns or charges.

By presenting complex information in a clear and engaging manner, these videos can significantly improve customer comprehension, reduce confusion and enhance overall communication effectiveness. Additionally, by improving customer understanding, your utility will foster greater trust and transparency in the long run.

“Energy technology, programs and rate options are getting more complex,” says Lindamood. “It’s critical for utilities to use a communications tool that can effectively educate customers about these topics and help them take control of their energy use.”

Enhancing customer engagement

Let’s face it — customer attention spans are short and competition is fierce. By leveraging customer-specific data and presenting it in an engaging, visual format, personalized videos can cut through the clutter to deliver information in a way that resonates with each viewer.

This relevance and personal touch can lead to higher view rates, longer watch times and more meaningful interactions, all of which translate into increased customer engagement and program participation.

“When customers complain about receiving too many marketing messages, what they mean is they get too many message that they’re not interested in,” explains Lindamood. “Customers are willing to spend time with messages that they are interested in. A useful, relevant message isn’t considered to be clutter at all. That’s why personalization is so important for all digital marketing tactics, including video.”

Driving behavioral change

By presenting usage data in an engaging and accessible way, personalized videos can make customers more aware of their consumption patterns and the impact they have on both their bills and the environment.

For instance, a video showing a customer’s energy use over time, compared to more efficient usage scenarios, can be a powerful motivator for change. It can prompt customers to adopt more energy-efficient behaviors, such as turning off lights when not in use or optimizing heating and cooling systems. This not only helps customers save money but also contributes to broader sustainability goals. Personalized videos can also be used to recommend specific programs or products that a customer might be interested in based on their behavior and preferences.

Through personalized insights, recommendations and clear visualizations, personalized videos can inspire proactive change and foster more responsible consumption habits among utility customers.

Boosting customer satisfaction

One of the common challenges in the utility industry is making customers aware of programs or services that are relevant to them or could assist them, such as rebate programs. Personalized videos can address this challenge by presenting such information in a clear and personalized manner. This can improve customer understanding, reduce confusion, and ultimately lead to higher customer satisfaction.

Additionally, personalized videos focus on relevant recommendations, only promoting programs that a customer is eligible for and likely interested in — and not promoting programs that don’t apply to the customer.

By proactively addressing customer needs and concerns through personalized content, utilities can make their customers feel valued and well-served, further boosting satisfaction levels.

Building strong customer relationships

Personalization as part of any digital marketing strategy shows customers that their utility knows them, understands their needs and values their business. This can foster a sense of connection and trust with the customer. Moreover, by providing useful, personalized recommendations, such as energy-saving tips based on a customer’s specific usage patterns, utilities can position themselves as helpful, trusted energy advisors rather than just service providers. This can enhance customer loyalty and strengthen long-term relationships.

Best Practices for Creating Personalized Videos

Implementing a successful personalized video marketing strategy involves several best practices.

One of the most important aspects to consider is exactly how to make the content more relatable. To achieve this, it’s crucial to understand your audience’s needs and preferences, and use customer data to tailor the content to each viewer’s specific circumstances. This also means not only personalizing the content based on individual data, but also considering factors like the viewer’s stage in the customer journey, their specific needs and interests and current trends or events.

Storytelling can be a powerful tool for personalization. By weaving customer data into a compelling narrative, you can create a more immersive and emotionally engaging viewing experience. Remember, the goal is not just to present data, but to use that data to create a connection with your customers.

Keeping the content relevant and concise is another best practice for creating effective personalized videos. Customers’ time is important, which is why it’s essential to deliver your message quickly and clearly. Avoid including unnecessary details or complex jargon that could confuse viewers. Instead, focus on the most important information that your customers need to know and present it in a straightforward manner.

Additionally, an effective personalized video should always include strong calls-to-action (CTAs). The CTAs are what prompt your customer to take the desired action after watching the video, whether that’s signing up for a service or adopting more energy-efficient behaviors. Make sure your CTAs are compelling and easy for the viewer to carry out.

It can also be beneficial to personalize the CTA based on the viewer’s individual circumstances or the specific content of the video. For instance, if the video shows a customer’s high energy usage during peak hours, the CTA could drive customers to sign up for your utility’s time-of-use (TOU) rate plan and encourage them to shift some of their usage to off-peak times. This not only makes the CTA more relevant, but also helps drive more effective behavioral change.

You also need to consider the length of the video; if it’s too long, you might lose customers’ interest before they even arrive at your CTA. Typically, the shorter, the better. Consider the most concise point you’re trying to make and keep the story as succinct as possible.

It’s important to remember that personalized videos should only be one part of your marketing strategy. “Some topics and program promotions really lend themselves to personalized videos. But some may also benefit from follow-up email campaigns, SMS, or other digital outreach,” says Lindamood. “Personalized videos are an important tactic, but they should be part of an overall mix to reach different customers in their preferred channels.”

Harness the Potential of Personalized Videos

Personalized videos offer utilities a potent tool to develop a deeper connection with their customers. By delivering tailored, relevant, and engaging content, your utility can enhance customer loyalty, boost conversions and stand out in today’s crowded digital landscape.

As technology continues to evolve, personalized videos are set to shape the future of digital marketing, offering endless possibilities for utilities to connect with their audience like never before.

Learn how Questline Digital’s personalized video solution can help your utility build stronger digital relationships and boost customer engagement.

In today’s rapidly evolving utility landscape, keeping employees up to speed with the latest industry trends and best practices is essential. For energy utility program managers and key account managers, the need for continuous learning is even more critical to ensure they have the tools to understand customer needs and build customer satisfaction. One effective solution is using webinars to train utility employees.

Using webinars for training offers an opportunity to deliver complex information in an engaging manner. Regardless of the location of the employee or their schedule, webinars for utility employees can provide evergreen content in an engaging format that can be presented live and recorded for on-demand viewing.

The Educational Potential of Webinars for Utility Employees

Webinars are live, online educational presentations where viewers can submit questions and comments in real time. Using webinars for training allows participants in different locations to see and hear the presenter, ask questions, and engage with the content, irrespective of their geographical location or time zone.

“There’s a level of engagement that’s available in a live webinar experience that cannot be matched by just watching a video or reading an article,” says Chris Loehrer, Questline Digital Webinar Manager. “You can do real-time Q&A, you can provide real-time resources to the attendees to increase their value proposition for you.”

The concept of webinars dates back to the 1990s when software was developed to enable business conference calls. Since then, they have grown into a prevalent tool for organizations to share information and connect with vast audiences.

In the context of energy utilities, using webinars for training can be particularly powerful. They provide a platform for program managers, key account managers and marketers to deliver complex industry-specific information in an interactive format. Whether it’s about the latest renewable energy technologies, regulatory updates, or demand response programs, webinars can effectively bridge the knowledge gap, foster dialogue and facilitate learning.

“While customers have goals they’re trying to reach as an individual, employees have goals that they’re trying to reach as an organization,” says Loehrer. “Webinars allow for an active learning experience for both groups and are particularly effective training methods.”

Webinars offer a perfect blend of convenience and interactivity. In an age where utility key account managers need to “have all the answers” for their customers, webinars for utility employees provide an easy way to access that information. They allow energy utility professionals to stay updated with the industry’s fast-paced changes without disrupting their schedules. Plus, the real-time interaction of webinars enables immediate clarification of doubts or questions, promoting a deeper understanding of the topics discussed.

Why Webinars are Ideal for Utility Employee Training

Using webinars for training is becoming increasingly popular, and for good reason. For one, they offer unparalleled convenience in terms of location and time flexibility. Unlike traditional in-person seminars or conferences, webinars eliminate the need for travel, allowing employees to participate from anywhere with an internet connection. Plus, webinar platforms offer the option to record sessions, meaning that employees can access the training materials at a time that suits them best, creating an array of evergreen content for employees to use in the future.

“Webinars exceed other methods of education,” says Loehrer. “They give context to content that’s hard to translate in, say, a whitepaper. You can’t beat live or video content. Plus, articles, infographics and whitepapers can all be integrated into a webinar event. I see webinar events as a launch point for continued content.”

Webinars also have the capacity to reach multiple employees simultaneously. This scalability makes webinars for utility employees a cost-effective training solution. Whether your utility is using webinars for training 10 employees or a thousand, the cost effectively remains the same. Plus, the ability to deliver consistent training to all employees ensures that everyone gets the same information, reducing discrepancies in knowledge and skills across your utility.

A Southeast utility, for example, utilized Questline Digital’s webinar program to increase training opportunities for its account managers. With a one-person training team and busy internal subject matter experts, the utility simply didn’t have the time or resources to produce quality educational assets for its 300-plus employees.

Example of a utility using webinars to train new employees

By producing webinars for a wide range of industries that its account managers worked in, such as architecture and manufacturing, the utility’s account managers were able to stay engaged in topics that interested them, while also learning on their own time and at their own pace. The webinars were also recorded and made available for account managers to access on-demand for continuing education unit (CEU) credits.

The interactive features of webinars for utility employees are key: encouraging active participation, which is critical for effective learning. Most webinar platforms support real-time Q&A sessions, polls and surveys, allowing employees to engage with both the content and the presenter. This two-way communication fosters a more dynamic learning environment, promotes deeper understanding, and makes the training more enjoyable and engaging.

“You have to consider — would you enjoy this webinar experience?” says Loehrer. “The focus needs to be on the content and the execution of the content. You need to make it as engaging as possible to keep the attention of those who it’s mandatory for, but also attract the people for whom it’s optional.”

How to Effectively Implement Webinars for Employee Training

Webinars for utility employees are a flexible, scalable, and interactive tool for training and education. Whether it’s sharing industry best practices, discussing emerging trends or teaching new technologies, webinars enable utilities to reach a wide audience and make a significant impact on their employee and customer engagement.

Implementing webinars for utility employees involves careful planning and execution. You have to use expanded resources — there are too many specialties and integrations available in a webinar experience. Having someone who is dedicated and has the expertise to leverage, guide and develop a webinar experience for your utility will help drive its success.

Loehrer says there are a few things to consider when planning a webinar:

  • Know what your attendees need to know in the next three, six and 12 months
  • Establish and align your webinar to the goals you’re trying to achieve
  • Outline the curriculum and the time frame
  • Brainstorm different formats to vary the type of delivery
  • Consider what subject matter experts you can include or interview
  • Build a story arc that can help you in developing further training series

Additional elements to consider when developing webinars include:

  • Choose a reliable webinar platform that suits your organization’s needs. Questline Digital’s webinar platform, for example, offers various features like screen sharing, real-time Q&A and recording capabilities.
  • Decide on the topic of your webinar and prepare a clear, concise presentation that covers this topic in depth. Remember to include a mix of different content types, such as slides, videos and live demonstrations, to keep the session interactive and engaging.
  • Practice, practice, practice. The importance of holding a dry run of the event can’t be overstated. Dry runs allow your utility to ensure your presenters feel comfortable and ensure any technology difficulties are settled behind the live event.

Keeping your audience engaged during a webinar presentation is crucial for effective learning. One way to achieve this is by encouraging active participation. Questline Digital often uses polls and surveys throughout the webinars to gather instant feedback and maintain audience interest. Plus, a designated Q&A time toward the end of the webinar lets audience members get their questions answered in real time. After the webinar, provide downloadable resources such as the presentation deck to those who attended as well as those who registered but didn’t attend live.

Loehrer says that using the text chat feature during a webinar event is essential. “People love to ask questions anonymously, they love to read other people’s questions and see answers from the experts,” he says. “They love to have a certain amount of levity without any pressure, and then all that data that’s collected in a chat is qualifiable data to use in your follow-up communications.”

Additionally, it’s important to develop and promote webinars in a way that makes attendees want to come back for more. “You should be serializing your content. Don’t have a customer come and only watch one and think they’re getting their entire knowledge base from one event,” says Loehrer.

The effectiveness of using webinars for training can be seen in other qualitative and quantitative ways. Gauging attendees’ interest by their poll responses and questions is one way. Another way is reviewing the metrics of the webinar, including:

  • Registrations
  • Attendees
  • Registration-to-attendance rate
  • Average time in the room
  • Average time engaged

By understanding these metrics, your utility can better prepare future events to boost engagement and education amongst employees.

What’s Next for Webinar-Based Utility Training?

The future of using webinars for training in the energy utility industry is promising, with digital learning and webinars becoming increasingly prevalent tools for knowledge sharing. According to a report by the Electricity Markets and Policy Group, webinars on various energy-related topics, including renewable energy, electric system planning and energy efficiency, are becoming more common. These webinars not only provide information on the latest developments but also allow for interactive discussions on emerging trends and challenges.

The growing demand for flexible, remote learning solutions suggests that webinars will continue to be popular. As the utility industry continues to evolve, so too will the need for ongoing education on new technologies, regulations and best practices. Using webinars as a training tool offers a scalable, cost-effective solution for meeting this need. By using webinars for training, utilities can ensure that their employees stay informed, skilled and ready to tackle the challenges of the future.

“You only have one chance to make a first impression. Don’t haphazardly jump into content delivery,” says Loehrer. “It’s about engagement, engagement, engagement. Make these topics interesting. Partner with someone so you can concentrate on the content and make it effective. You can’t just go into this — you have to have a strategy in place or else it’s going to fail.”

Learn how Questline Digital’s webinar solution can support your utility’s employee training needs.

It can be hard to believe that there are still customers left to enroll in paperless billing. After all, with the tremendous growth of electronic billing, automatic payments, mobile apps and digital currency, most customers now prefer a paperless way of paying utilities.

However, some customers remain reluctant to adopt paperless utility bills. Habits can be hard to break — and many customers are accustomed to receiving a paper bill in the mail. Energy utilities are faced with the challenge of converting resistant customers who may not realize the many benefits of going paperless.

“When I think of who is left to enroll in paperless billing, two categories of customers come to mind,” says Melissa Thom, Brand Engagement Lead at Idaho Power. “One group is those who don’t regularly engage with us and haven’t considered whether we have a paperless option or not. The other group is older generations who have a set routine for paying their bills, and that usually involves paper.”

For utilities, developing a plan of action to encourage these customers to enroll in e-billing programs and finally go paperless can make all the difference.

Prioritize Proactive Outreach to Utility Customers

The latest research finds that customers spend only eight minutes per year interacting online with their utility, and only six minutes per year thinking about their energy bill. According to Thom, encouraging a paperless way of paying utilities starts with proactive outreach and ongoing digital communications.

“If customers are not thinking about Idaho Power, they’re also not actively looking at ways to enroll in our programs,” Thom says. “That’s why we do proactive outreach on programs like paperless billing, auto pay and budget pay for customers who haven’t needed to think about us in a while.”

To boost program enrollments, Idaho Power recently revamped its My Account portal. When customers log in, they now see a list of programs with either a red “X” or green check mark by each one. This indicates whether or not they have enrolled in the programs.

“On a behavioral level, we think customers will want to see all green check marks, pushing them to enroll in paperless billing and other programs,” Thom explains. “This also makes the enrollment process much easier since they are already logged into their account.”

Example of animated gif from a popup ad promoting paperless way of paying utilities

My Account pop-up ads are another marketing tactic that has been effective for Idaho Power. The pop-up ads highlight the benefits of paperless utility bills, including more convenience and greater security. When customers click on an ad, it will take them directly to the paperless billing enrollment page.

Educate Customers on the Benefits of Paperless Utility Bills

It’s important to explain the benefits of e-billing, including faster payments, easier access to online payment options, and reducing clutter in customers’ homes. These benefits should be presented clearly and concisely in email campaigns, website landing pages and other communications.

One of the biggest benefits of paperless utility bills is the ability to pay anytime and anywhere. An e-bill marketing campaign from a Pennsylvania-based energy utility focused on how e-bill was a must-have for summertime. Customers have the opportunity to pay their bill “from across the nation to around the world.”

Example of email promoting paperless way of paying utilities with benefits

Feedback from customers who have resisted a paperless way of paying utilities can also be useful. Utility marketers should identify the common objections or concerns customers have about paperless billing and address them in future marketing campaigns.

For example, many customers have concerns about the security and privacy of their personal information when making digital payments. Ease customer concerns by emphasizing how they can access their bills through secure portals, reducing the risk of personal information being compromised in the mail. In addition, encryption technology adds extra security measures to protect customer information.

Discover the Impact of e-Bill Incentives

Offering incentives can be the push that resistant customers need to make the switch. This might include discounts on monthly bills, cash back or small rewards like $5 Amazon gift cards.

There is no one-size-fits-all incentive that works across all utilities. For example, in a city with a large percentage of sports fans, customers may be motivated by the offer of tickets to the big game. Cities with a focus on the great outdoors may be motivated by environmentally minded giveaways like energy-efficient appliances.

PSEG Long Island took advantage of various incentives to encourage a paperless way of paying utilities, including a chance for 10 winners to receive $1,000 each. The utility also tried smaller incentives like free LED light bulbs.

Example of email promoting paperless way of paying utilities with incentive

Through testing of numerous incentives, PSEG Long Island identified what worked best for their target audience and successfully increased paperless billing enrollment by 51,000 customers. The energy utility discovered that tangible, guaranteed incentives drove greater engagement.

Idaho Power utilized a sweepstakes to encourage customers to enroll in paperless utility bills. Customers who enrolled in paperless billing were automatically entered into a drawing to win an iPad Mini. According to Thom, it made sense to offer a digital prize for a campaign encouraging customers to switch from paper to digital bills.

Example of animated gif promoting paperless utility bills enrollment incentive

During the sweepstakes, 38,000 customers logged into My Account and were shown the pop-up ad. With a click-through rate of 3%, around 1,100 customers clicked through to the paperless billing enrollment page.

Make the Paperless Enrollment Process Easy

Oftentimes, a complicated enrollment process is the main barrier preventing customers from signing up for paperless utility bills. Providing simple and straightforward instructions can go a long way in encouraging customers to switch.

Make enrollment easy by reducing the number of steps needed and providing multiple ways to enroll, including online, through the utility mobile app and via text message. The more clicks involved in enrollment, the more likely customers will navigate away from the page out of frustration.

A fast enrollment process was the focus of this email from a large Northeast energy utility. With just a few clicks, customers could go paperless in seconds.

Example of email promoting paperless way of paying utilities with simple enrollment

Utilities should also provide paperless sign-up directly through their mobile app. Customers who download the app are more likely to be tech-savvy and prefer a paperless way of paying utilities. This is also an ideal channel to promote the benefits of paperless billing.

“We promote a lot of programs together, like paperless billing, auto pay and the mobile app, because we think if customers enroll in one, they are likely to enroll in another,” Thom says. “If they’re engaged in My Account or the mobile app, it’s much more convenient for them to enroll in paperless billing.”

Reach the Next Generation with e-Bill Promotions

Every day, younger generations are becoming the next wave of utility customers. While Gen Z are more likely to show interest in paperless utility bills, they aren’t keen on paying with traditional methods like debit cards and online banking.

Gen Z customers prefer paying with new money management tools like apps and digital wallets. Research also finds that less than 50% of Gen Z customers have traditional bank accounts. In the coming years, energy utilities will need to think about how paperless billing will evolve to meet Gen Z’s preferences.

Idaho Power will soon be expanding its payment options, as a growing number of customers prefer paying with mobile payment services like Apple Pay.

“We will soon have more digital payment options, including Apple Pay, Google Pay and PayPal in the very near future,” Thom says. “If a customer loves using Google Pay anywhere they go, they should be able to pay their energy bill in the same way. We have to constantly be thinking about the preferences of younger generations.”

Reach Remaining Customers with Paperless Ways of Paying Utilities

For energy utilities, there will always be customers to enroll in paperless utility bills, whether brand-new customers or those finally ready to make a change. According to one study, three in four adults across all ages would likely switch at least one bill to paperless. In fact, 87% of millennials were likely to pay at least one bill digitally.

“I look at paperless billing two-fold,” Thom says. “If most of our customers know that it’s an option for them, I’m happy. I’m never going to force any customers into the program. I just want them to know their options — that’s the awareness side of marketing paperless billing. Then there’s the conversion side — sometimes all customers need is an extra little push to make the switch.”

Enroll more customers to receive paperless utility bills with Questline Digital’s proven marketing solutions.

Staying connected with energy utility customers is more important than ever. Utility marketers are constantly looking for effective ways to engage with their audience and deliver timely information about programs, services and energy-saving tips — all while cutting through the digital clutter that make it hard to attract customers’ attention.

Two popular marketing channels have emerged as top contenders in this space: SMS (Short Message Service) marketing vs. email marketing. While both channels share an ability to connect with customers efficiently, they differ in terms of reach, immediacy and user preferences.

Chart comparing the differences between sms marketing vs email marketing

The Differences Between SMS Marketing vs. Email Marketing

It’s essential for utilities to employ effective marketing strategies to reach their target audiences. While SMS marketing vs. email marketing have their own strengths and weaknesses, which one is more effective for utilities?

SMS marketing involves sending promotional messages directly to customers’ mobile phones. Research shows that the average SMS marketing campaign has a high open rate of 98%, making it an effective way to grab people’s attention quickly. Additionally, we know that 95% of text messages are read and responded to within three minutes of being received. SMS messages can also be tailored to specific audiences, allowing utilities to send personalized messages that are more likely to convert.

On the other hand, email marketing involves sending promotional emails directly to customers’ inboxes. It has a lower average open rate than SMS at only 20%, but offers more customization options such as dynamic information about customers, images and videos. Your utility is also more likely to have a greater number of customer emails than phone numbers.

When comparing SMS marketing vs. email marketing, it’s important to consider:

  • Customer preferences
  • Campaign data
  • Communication circumstances

Customer preferences

While the 98% open rate achieved by SMS marketing is impressive, it doesn’t tell a full story. In fact, according to Statista, between 2020 and 2021 almost 50% of survey respondents preferred receiving business communications through email, while only 25% of respondents preferred SMS.

When compared to email, one study says that 2023 will be the year we reach 4.37 billion email users worldwide — more than half of the global population. In 2023 alone, the number of emails sent and received is 347 billion, and that number is expected to reach 393 billion by 2026.

All of this data makes one thing clear: customer preferences are fluid.

There will always be customers who prefer email over SMS and vice versa. Choosing to use just one of these communication mediums isn’t recommended. Your customers want the option to choose which is best for them. 

Campaign data

SMS marketing campaigns and email marketing campaigns differ in the types of performance metrics that are available for evaluation.

SMS marketing campaigns typically yield information such as delivery rates, open rates, click-through rates (if using short links) and opt-out rates. Additionally, utilities can track the time it takes for customers to open and engage with messages, enabling them to optimize future campaigns based on user behavior patterns.

However, due to the character limitations of SMS messages and the absence of visual elements, the data collected through this channel may be less comprehensive compared to email marketing. Still, the high open rates and immediacy of SMS marketing make it an effective tool for utilities to communicate time-sensitive information and gauge customer responsiveness.

On the other hand, email marketing offers utilities a more extensive range of data points to analyze, thanks to its versatile format and richer content options. Besides open rates, click-through rates and conversion rates, email marketing allows utilities to track user engagement with specific elements within the email, such as images, videos and call-to-action buttons. This granular data helps utilities better understand their audience’s interests and preferences, allowing for more targeted and personalized communication.

Additionally, utilities can gather demographic information through email sign-up forms, enabling them to segment their audience and tailor content accordingly. While email marketing may not boast the immediacy of SMS, its ability to collect in-depth engagement data makes it an invaluable tool for fostering long-term customer relationships.

Communication circumstances

One element that you must consider in the SMS marketing vs. email marketing conversation is their different use cases. For example, email marketing can provide more personalization and creativity in its messages, connecting with customers not only through written text, but with design, too.

SMS marketing campaigns, on the other hand, focus on brevity and immediate impact. You must tell a customer exactly what they need to know in a matter of a few characters, using only text and short links.

When considering which circumstances to use SMS marketing vs. email marketing, one thing is important to maintain across both sectors: ask for permission.

Your utility wants to communicate essential information to customers, not annoy them. Therefore, it’s important to ask for permission from your customers before messaging them, especially when it comes to SMS marketing. Text messages are considered more personal, and sometimes more invasive, than emails, so getting permission is critical.

In fact, it’s not just a best practice — it’s the law. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) is the federal legislation that governs telemarketing, text messaging and the Do-Not-Call List. One of the rules of this legislation is that companies must receive prior written consent ahead of contacting customers with commercial or marketing offers.

Other elements to consider between SMS marketing vs. email marketing include:

  • Timing: Maintain a regular cadence with email marketing so customers know when they can expect communications from you. But only send SMS messages to customers on a limited basis — they don’t want to hear from you every day.
  • Content length: Share long-form content and messages via email. With SMS, brevity is critical; only send brief updates about programs or services.
  • Personalization: Input dynamic customer data into emails to deliver a truly personalized message. Realize that texts come across more personal no matter what, as they are in a more intimate setting.
  • Content types: Share general updates about programs or marketplace products via email. But share time-sensitive offers and updates via text, such as an exclusive coupon on an electric vehicle charger or a last-minute chance to register for an e-bill giveaway.
Example of mobile solutions text alerts for energy utility

Which Communications Channel is Best for Utility Customers?

While it’s great to understand the differences between SMS marketing vs. email marketing, it’s important to understand which ones are right for your utility and, more importantly, your utility’s customers.

SMS marketing campaign use cases:

  1. Outage notifications: SMS marketing campaigns are ideal for sending real-time power outage alerts, ensuring customers receive crucial information promptly, even when they don’t have internet access.
  2. Billing reminders: Utilities can send timely SMS reminders for upcoming bill payments, helping customers avoid late fees and keep track of their monthly payments.
  3. Emergency alerts: In case of urgent situations, such as gas leaks or severe weather warnings, SMS messages can quickly inform customers about the issue and any necessary actions to take.
  4. Energy-saving tips: Short, actionable tips can be sent via SMS to encourage customers to reduce their energy consumption, especially timely messages during seasonal high-bill situations.

Email marketing campaign use cases:

  1. Newsletters: Email marketing is perfect for distributing utility newsletters that contain detailed information about new programs, services, industry updates and energy-saving initiatives.
  2. Personalized recommendations: Based on customer data, utilities can send personalized emails suggesting relevant energy efficiency programs, rebate offers, or home improvement tips tailored to individual needs.
  3. Educational content: Utilities can leverage email marketing to share in-depth educational resources, such as energy efficiency advice, infographics and videos, helping customers make informed decisions about their energy usage.

BONUS: Customer surveys and feedback. Both SMS and email are effective channels for inviting customers to participate in surveys or provide feedback on your utility’s services to gather insights for continuous improvement. The type of service provided and the length of the survey will be deciding factors in which channel your utility should use to promote surveys.

When to Use Both SMS Marketing and Email Marketing

Although the impending death of email has been predicted for decades, and text messaging was once seen as an ephemeral chat tool for teens, the truth is that these two marketing capabilities are valuable and dependable ways to connect with customers. The best marketing strategy isn’t comparing SMS marketing vs. email marketing and picking one or the other, but rather determining how to best combine both marketing channels to improve customer communications.

Incorporating both an SMS marketing and email marketing strategy is critical to connecting with all customers. In doing so, your utility will maximize its ability to communicate about programs and services on the platforms that customers prefer.

Learn more about how Questline Digital can help your utility develop an engagement strategy to connect with customers on all channels.