Effective email list management is critical to digital marketing success. By building digital relationships with residential and business customers, and growing lists to reach more customers, utilities can achieve marketing goals, increase program participation and boost customer satisfaction.

However, as customers ebb and flow, so does your email list. Addresses become inconsistent or nonexistent as they move or change email platforms. To reach your utility’s customers, it’s vital to focus on how to grow your customer database with email list growth hacks.

It’s also important to avoid the negative consequences of poor list management. These can range from complaints and reduced satisfaction to potential legal implications of “spamming” customers who don’t want to be emailed.

The following email list growth hacks will help your utility boost open rates, reduce opt-out and complaint rates, and improve digital marketing performance by connecting with the right customers.

Email List Size: Bigger Isn’t Always Better

Quality over quantity. It’s a well-known phrase, but when it comes to email list growth hacks, it’s easy to think more along the lines of “bigger is better.”

Of course, engaging with more of your customers using relevant content they want to receive is a worthy goal and can result in huge gains in customer satisfaction. But the key here is engagementGrowing a list just for the sake of growth is a big mistake.

Questline Digital has found that without proactive list management, many of our utility partners find up to 80% of their email list has gone inactive and not opened or clicked an email within the past year. Why is that important?

There are several drawbacks to poor email list management:

  • Keeps your messages out of customers’ inboxes. All major ISPs now use subscriber engagement as a primary factor in whether they deliver your messages to the inbox, send it to the junk folder, or block it entirely. Questline Digital monitors something called “inbox placement” to see whether the messages we send for our clients are actually reaching the inbox. We have found that repeatedly sending to subscribers who don’t interact with your emails actually lowers sender reputation scores and the rate at which your mail gets placed in the inbox — even for those customers who have engaged in the past.
  • Skews your metrics (for the worse!). Sending to a large number of inactive subscribers not only lowers deliverability metrics, but it results in lower open rates, click rates and other key performance indicators. It’s hard to get a clear picture of your success with all that dead weight.
  • Damages customer relationships. As much as we’d like them to, not every customer wants to interact with their utility on a regular basis. For some, reliably delivering the energy they need is enough and they just aren’t interested in the information you’re sending. Email can be a very personal thing for some people. Don’t upset them by continuing to send messages they are never going to read.

7 Proven Email List Growth Hacks

To effectively communicate with more of your utility’s customers, take advantage of the following email list growth hacks.

Chart listing seven email list growth hacks

1. Develop opt-in campaigns

Opt-in email campaigns are easy solutions that let customers choose when they hear from your utility. By identifying what customers are interested in, your utility can encourage customers to sign up for emails based on those interests. For example, a customer may be looking to purchase an electric vehicle soon so they would enjoy receiving educational resources from your utility about EVs.

While some customers may choose not to participate, the ones who opt in will be valuable contacts who engage with the content your utility sends them.

Questline Digital recently produced an opt-in campaign for PSEG Long Island. We created banner ads to place on the utility’s website to encourage customers to sign up for its email newsletters. The banner ads led directly to a signup form where customers could specify what communications they were interested in – home, small/medium business or large business. Since its installment in November 2019, this creative campaign has led to 12,885 successful new registrations for PSEG Long Island’s newsletters.

Example of email list growth hacks with signup CTA button

2. Leverage employee touchpoints

For customers who often interact with account managers, like Key Accounts or Commercial & Industrial customers, adding information about opting-in to an email list can be an effective email list growth hack.

The trust that is built between account managers and their customers encourages customers to listen and act when informed about something as simple as signing up for an email list. Ask account managers to encourage their customers to share your utility’s emails with others in their business or industry.

For other employees, such as customer experience associates, add intuitive questions to call center scripts that demonstrate the benefits of receiving emails from your energy utility. After all, one of the best ways to acquire a customer’s email address is to just ask for it. These questions could include:

  • “Would you like to be notified of storm alerts and potential outages in your area?”
  • “What is the best way to reach you via email to share cost-saving energy tips for your home?”

For example, if electric vehicle owners are seeking EV information on your website or via your call center, you can ask them to opt-in to your email to receive program updates.

These questions are especially effective when new or moving customers call to add or change their service and they are open to starting an engaged relationship with their utility.

3. Offer an incentive

Incentives can be the extra push some customers need to sign up for your utility’s email communications. When customers receive something in return after signing up, they’re more likely to do so.

When Elk River was looking to increase subscriptions to its quarterly newsletter, the utility began a promotion for customers to receive a reusable grocery bag and four LED lightbulbs after signing up.

To make the promotion even more interesting, the utility’s Conversation and Key Accounts Manager, Tom Sagstetter, hand-delivered the items to each customer. This promotion increased the utility’s email list size exponentially. Sagstetter delivered more than 300 packages and increased readership by just as many.

Example of incentive used for email list growth hacks
Example of incentives used for email list growth hacks

“The newsletter is a great way to have more regular contact with our customers in a way that’s less formal than, say, their bill,” Sagstetter says. “The promotion we offered not only helped increase newsletter signups, it also helped extend the reach of our conservation message. By delivering the items myself, I was able to talk directly to customers about efficiency and what they were going to get ongoing in the newsletter.”

4. Take advantage of your utility’s website

Customers are likely already visiting your utility’s website to make payments or see past billing statements. Remind customers that you can deliver additional helpful content, like energy education or information about cost-savings programs, directly to their inboxes with this email list growth hack.

Example of email list growth hacks on website

Add simple email signup forms to your website that correspond to the content on each page. For example:

  • On an energy efficiency program page you could suggest, “Enter your email address to receive energy-saving tips and rebates.”
  • The call-to-action on a safety education page might be, “Sign up to get more home safety and energy efficiency advice.”

5. Require an email to access a resource

Consider offering webinars to customers that allow them to learn more about your energy efficiency programs, paperless billing, payment assistance services and more. Or offer consultations for energy-savings education, like an at-home energy assessment.

When providing these resources, require a user to enter their email address to access or sign up for them. Ensure you place an opt-in message so customers know that by signing up, they accept being added to your utility’s email list.

This is not only a great email list growth hack, it’s also a way to find out what topics customers are interested in.

During the height of the pandemic, National Grid and Eversource partnered on webinars to share payment assistance resources for customers. They were produced with closed captioning and broadcast separately in Spanish and Portuguese and included an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter. Over 9,770 total customers registered for the webinars — providing numerous new emails for the utilities.

City of Palo Alto provides similar resources to its customers year-round. The utility offers educational resources on topics like solar power technology, alternative water supplies, electric vehicles and more. Each event is promoted on the City of Palo Alto’s website and gathers names and email addresses when customers register.

Example of webinar for email list growth hacks

6. Include a pop-up form on your website

Pop-ups serve as a powerful call-to-action for customers. The important thing to remember with this email list growth hack is to ensure it doesn’t disrupt the customer’s experience on your website. Make the message clear, to the point and easy for them to click out of if they choose not to opt-in to your list.

Typically, pop-ups are displayed when a user intends to leave the website; after a certain percentage of the page has been scrolled through; or after a visitor has been active on the website for 10 seconds. Test which pop-ups work best for your utility to see your email list grow.

Example of popup form for email list growth hacks

The Forbes Agency Council suggests, “Not every visitor needs to be asked to join your mailing list. Try using pop-ups on specific pages or for specific audiences, such as returning visitors who’ve already engaged with your brand but aren’t in your customer relationship management system.”

7. Leverage social media

Your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram followers might be interested in relevant updates delivered via email. When you post on social media sites asking customers if they are interested in receiving updates, make sure you emphasize convenience and interests that appeal to social users.

For example:

  • “Never miss an update. Get the latest energy-saving tips sent straight to your inbox.”
  • “Sign up to learn more about sustainability and renewable energy.”

Set up social media campaigns to advertise your emails either with a sign-up form directly on the post or with a link that directs customers to a sign-up form.

Through social media you can show customers what they can expect from your utility’s emails. You can do this by using video or imagery that shows content they might receive.

Example of email list growth hacks with social post

“Social media is a really powerful tool for utilities,” says Alexandra Greenberg, Questline Digitals’ Content Strategist. “It offers a direct way to reach customers and share helpful tips or interesting energy facts to keep them engaged. But it’s also a great way for utilities to promote their services and offerings. People really pay attention to social media, and that makes it an essential platform for utilities to communicate with customers.”

Email List Growth Hacks to Avoid

Not all methods of growing an email list are acceptable — either technically or ethically. When planning an email list growth hacks strategy, avoid the following approaches:

  • Buying email lists: When your primary goal is to grow your list as quickly as possible, there’s a good chance you aren’t doing it organically. Buying lists, data mining from other departments or similar tactics can be counterproductive to your overall business goals.

While it may technically be the fastest way to achieve an increased email list, it’s also the number-one mistake marketers could make. There is no way to ensure the purchased emails are legitimate or users who would be interested in your utility’s content. Make sure you keep the business goal in mind. Doubling your list has no effect on the end business goal if it results in a 50% reduction in inbox placement.

  • Adding email addresses without permission: Your utility should only send emails to customers who have expressed direct permission to receive them. Otherwise, adding emails without permission will make not only your customers upset, but it could land your utility in legal trouble as well.
  • Asking for too much information: If customers are interested in signing up for your utility’s emails, don’t make them jump through hoops to do so. Ask them for their general contact information, like their name, email address and phone number. Asking too much personal information can come off as spammy and push the customer to distrust your utility.
  • Offering an incentive that’s not valuable: As mentioned above, offering an incentive is an effective email list growth hack to encourage customers to sign up for your emails. However, ensure you are offering an incentive that is of value to customers, such as Elk River’s LED lightbulbs promotion. Don’t try to offer a rebate that expires tomorrow or a deal that can only be used if you go through X, Y and Z steps.
  • Sending too many emails: Congratulations — you’ve grown your email list. Now, ensure your email marketing strategy is consistent and that customers know what to expect. Sending multiple emails in one week could frustrate customers and encourage them to unsubscribe from your utility’s list, which would be counterintuitive to your progress.

Follow Opt-Out Rules and Opt-In Best Practices

Marketers often wrongly assume that bigger is always better when it comes to customer email lists. While you want to reach as many customers as you can to maximize the impact of your message, that effort is only effective if you email engaged customers who want to hear from your utility.

Adding unengaged customers to your list, on the other hand, could have a negative impact on email performance.

  • Open rates and click-through rates will decline when unengaged customers ignore or delete your messages. That makes it harder to analyze metrics and optimize the campaign for customers who do want to receive it.
  • Unengaged customers may unsubscribe from your list, allow your message to languish in junk folders, or mark it as “spam.” This will not only impact your deliverability metrics, it could affect your reputation with email service providers — threatening your ability to deliver future email to engaged customers.

The way you manage customer info on your email list is not just governed by common sense and courtesy, it’s regulated by federal law.

The CAN-SPAM act, which is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, gives consumers the right to have you stop emailing them — with potential penalties of more than $40,000 for each email in violation. While that could be expensive, the longer-term cost would be the loss of customer satisfaction from repeatedly emailing people who don’t want to hear from you — and ignoring them when they ask you to stop.

Follow these best practices to properly add and remove customers from your email list:

  • Ask customers to opt-in to your lists and use active opt-in methods (avoid passive or automatic opt-in tactics such as a pre-checked opt-in box). You want customers to choose to receive messages from you.
  • Make it clear to customers what they are signing up for. Allow separate opt-ins and opt-outs for different lists and explain the purpose and cadence of each one.
  • While customers may opt-out of receiving certain types of messages, you must also include an option that allows them to stop all messages from you.
  • Make signup easy and unsubscribing easier. Every email message must include a conspicuous explanation of how to opt-out that is easy for an ordinary person to recognize and understand.

Connecting with the Right Customers

Your email marketing strategy will not be successful by reaching the most customers, it will succeed by reaching the right customers. With these email list growth hacks to acquire new contacts, grow and maintain email lists, you can reduce complaints from unengaged customers while nurturing long-term relationships with engaged customers.

The email list growth hacks above are some tried-and-true methods to increase list size, but don’t be afraid to test different ways of reaching customers. With the right strategy, your utility can see significant growth in your email list and improve open and click rates.

Learn how an engagement strategy from Questline Digital can grow your utility’s email lists and build stronger connections with customers.

Spam emails are a major issue for many internet users. In fact, research shows that out of the 333 billion emails sent worldwide, 85% of those are spam. Although email marketing is still one of the best tools for reaching customers, spam messages can confuse, frustrate or victimize your utility’s customers.

As your utility works to make sure its emails aren’t susceptible to spam filters or misinterpreted by customers, it’s important to debunk the myths surrounding email spam. Additionally, it’s important to know the best practices when it comes to email marketing and spam to ensure you’re building trust with customers.

The following email spam facts will help your utility keep its customers safe and secure, ultimately leading to higher customer satisfaction.

Myth 1: Spam Words Always Get Your Email Filtered

Email spam myth: “Free,” “Save” and “Win” are just some of the words that have been labeled as “spam trigger words,” inspiring fear and distrust among customers and their energy utilities who might use them in their subject lines.

Email spam facts: In reality, these words aren’t the trap everyone thinks they are. This is a lingering myth from years ago when inboxes were besieged by spammers and email providers used simple content filters to determine what was spam.

Content filters look at subject lines, email content and even the image-to-text ratio. As the spammers figured out how to get around those filters, email providers got more sophisticated. More and more, email providers are evaluating the larger picture to identify spam, including sender reputation, deployment patterns and recipient engagement. Those have more weight on whether your email gets delivered than using previously defined “spam words” in your subject line.

For example, as an ode to this email spam fact, PSEG Long Island deployed a paperless billing campaign in 2018 that promoted free LED lightbulbs to customers who signed up for the program. The utility received extraordinary engagement, including a 21.8% open rate and 7.7% click-to-open rate. The subject line the utility used that received these specific results was, “Paperless = Free LEDs.”

Example of email message to show spam facts

This is proof that including the word “free” doesn’t mean your utility’s emails will automatically go into spam folders. On the contrary, it might just increase engagement with your utility’s customers.

Myth 2: CAN-SPAM Compliance Leads to Automatic Delivery

Email spam myth: Your email meets all the requirements of CAN-SPAM, so it will go straight to your customers’ inboxes, right? Not necessarily. As mentioned above, many email providers are using algorithms to determine if an email is considered spam or not.

Email spam facts: Just because your email meets CAN-SPAM requirements it does not guarantee a free ride to the inbox. Overcoming CAN-SPAM is about meeting legal requirements, not deliverability standards. Although meeting CAN-SPAM requirements sets your utility’s communications up for better success, it does not guarantee deliverability or email opens from customers.

Instead, to reach customers’ inboxes, make sure your utility is abiding by email best practices and sending relevant content to the right audience to keep your sender reputation positive and engagement metrics high. This email spam fact is the way to reach customers’ hearts… and inboxes.

One Southeast energy utility grew its customer engagement by creating automated anniversary emails that thanked customers for their business. Rather than developing another transactional email, the utility wanted to create a friendlier touchpoint with its customers. Thus, the anniversary emails were born.

Example email message demonstrates facts about spam

These emails were delivered to both residential and small-to-medium-sized business customers after their first year of service. The emails were personalized to each customer and included helpful links, like newsletter registration, rebate programs and energy efficiency tips. Customer engagement drastically increased from these emails, achieving an average 46% open rate. Additionally, the utility was better able to understand its customers and what they sought from the utility to further develop communications to meet those needs.

Myth 3: There is a Perfect Day and Time to Send Emails

Email spam myth: A popular question in email marketing is, “When is the best day and time to send my emails?” Marketing blogs are full of conflicting answers: send early in the mornings, send Thursdays at 3 p.m., never send on a Monday.

Email spam facts: The truth is, there is no perfect day and time to send your emails. It comes down to one thing: knowing your audience and their preferences. You need to know when your customers are most likely to engage with the emails your utility is sending.

How do you figure this out? When tracking your metrics, include the day and time you sent the email. Then, evaluate the days of the week and times of day where you see high engagement. Don’t forget to also look at the type and topic of communication. Maybe your audience prefers to read email newsletters on a different day than when they engage with promotional messages. Testing different times and days for your utility’s messaging will help to identify these factors and decipher which days work best for your utility and its customers.

According to Questline Digital’s digital marketing data, even the deployment of utility email newsletters and promotional messages differs in time and day. The below charts show the differences calculated in days and times sent between residential and business communications for both email newsletters and program promotions.

While it appears that for residential customers, the best days to deploy a newsletter were Mondays and Thursdays, promotional messages for the same group saw Tuesdays and Thursdays outperform the other days. When it comes down to this email spam fact, customers are in control of when they interact with your utility’s emails. The best your utility can do is track and compare against your own performance metrics rather than those of other utilities.

Myth 4: The Bigger the List Size, the Better

Email spam myth: A lot of marketers think that email list growth is always a good thing. While you do want to reach as many customers as you can, you want them to be relevant and engaged, not just along for the ride. Connecting with them isn’t as simple as just adding them to your list.

Email spam facts: A good email list is about the quality of your recipients, not the quantity. Every year, your utility typically loses a number of subscribers to abandoned or changed email addresses. Sending communications to these inactive email addresses negatively impacts your deliverability by hurting your utility’s sender reputation.

Developing a re-engagement campaign to target inactive subscribers will help your utility clean up your list. Those who want to remain on the list will and those who have inactive addresses will drop from the list. Your utility may lose a portion of its list recipients, but in the end, the quality of your utility’s email list will improve, as will your email deliverability, and your utility will start seeing better results.

Separating Email Facts from Fables

Many of these email spam facts come down to knowing your utility’s customers and audience. Continue to test and analyze your utility’s communications to see what works and what doesn’t. In doing so, your utility will be better able to communicate with its customers and ensure its emails are reaching their inboxes, not their junk folders.

The digital deployment experts at Questline Digital can help you separate email marketing myths from best practices.

Email marketing isn’t just a buzzword that industry folks throw around. It’s one of the most valuable tools in a marketer’s toolbox to connect with customers. The email marketing stats collected by HubSpot speak for themselves:

  • There are 4 billion daily email users
  • 73% of millennials prefer communications from businesses to come via email
  • 59% of respondents say marketing emails influence their purchasing decisions

Even in the age of TikTok and Instagram, email still has a stronghold in the industry to reach and interact with customers. Ian Brodie, author of “Email Persuasion,” even noted, “I’ve made every classic mistake with email. One of my most costly mistakes was not starting with email soon enough.”

Chart showing email statistics to avoid email marketing mistakes

Starting with email isn’t typically the issue for energy utilities. However, there are many other common email marketing mistakes that you could be making. Read on to discover five of the worst email marketing mistakes — and how to avoid them.

1. Not Welcoming New Customers

Customers don’t just want welcome emails from brands — they expect them. Although energy utility customers often don’t get to choose their energy provider, welcoming them to your utility still makes a positive first impression. A simple “hello” can make a significant impact on a customer’s journey.

We encourage energy utilities to not just send one welcome email, but a welcome series of three or four messages to start engagement off strong with new or moving customers. According to our 2022 Energy Utility Benchmarks Report, open rates for welcome messages reached 60% in one year.

When customers sign up for service, your utility is fresh in their minds. Use this timing to your advantage to:

  • Introduce your energy utility
  • Encourage My Account signups
  • Share your latest promotions or rebates
  • Promote paperless billing
  • Provide energy efficiency resources
  • Highlight community efforts

2. Not Setting Clear Expectations

There’s nothing worse than subscribing to what you think is a weekly email list and receiving daily emails instead. This is a surefire way to make customers lose interest and trust in your utility. The cadence and content of your emails need to meet customer expectations.

Tell them at the beginning of your digital relationship what they can expect from you:

  • How often you’ll communicate
  • What platforms will be used for communications
  • What types of content they can expect

Setting these expectations early on will encourage more engagement from your customers. Plus, they’ll be less likely to opt-out of communications. This also shows that your energy utility respects your customers’ inboxes. After all, email users typically receive an average of 126 emails per day.

It’s also important to communicate ahead of time what customers can expect if an outage occurs. Make sure customers know:

  • How to report an outage
  • How to check restoration times
  • How to contact your energy utility

Your utility should communicate early on how often and when customers should expect emails.

3. Not Prioritizing the Customer

Have you ever opened an email on your phone that was formatted so poorly that you couldn’t navigate the content? How about one filled with promotional information that wasn’t relevant to you? Of course you have. We all have. But that’s not how it should be.

Your utility needs to pay attention to your customers’ interests and needs if you expect to grow a relationship with them. Instead of putting all your utility’s effort into an email that will only look good in a web browser, focus on providing information in an easy-to-digest format. And while your communications can include selling points about a product or service, ensure that information is relevant to that audience.

According to Pew Research Center, more than 85% of Americans own smartphones and 15% of adults are “smartphone-only” internet users. If you’re not prioritizing mobile at this point, you’re making one of the most critical email marketing mistakes out there. Overdesigning and crowding your email content so much that it doesn’t load properly in smartphone windows — or look good in any format — can result in disinterested customers and lower engagement.

Then there is the problem of ensuring applicable content reaches the right audience. To ensure your utility is delivering the right information to the right people you should segment your lists into groups based on:

  • Residential vs. business customers
  • Renters vs. homeowners
  • Customer interests
  • Purchase history
  • Program participation

In fact, Campaign Monitor data shows that nearly 21% of consumers say they would unsubscribe from a brand’s email list if the content isn’t relevant to them.

One last tip: Don’t be a robot. Your customers would much rather feel like they’re reading a message from a person than a computer. because an energy utility is a corporation doesn’t mean your messages can’t have a personality. Find out what makes sense for your utility and show the human side of your organization.

4. No Clear CTA

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Make sure your communications have a clear call-to-action (CTA).

We’ve all heard the anecdote — if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Well, if an email is delivered without an effective CTA, did it make an impact?

That answer is simple: No.

The copy in your email could be the greatest writing of our generation, selling benefit after benefit to customers and telling them exactly what they want to hear. But it makes no difference if you don’t tell customers what you want them to do.

  • Do you want them to learn more?
  • Should they reach out with questions?
  • Are you directing them to make a purchase at your marketplace?
  • Can they sign up for a program?
  • Do you want them to follow your utility on social media?

Emails should serve a purpose. Answer customers’ questions before they have them, help them take action, and make sure your CTA is clear and enticing and points to the outcome you hope to drive. Ashley Guttuso, chief strategy officer at Simple Focus Software, made an excellent point about email marketing on LinkedIn. She said, “Don’t be an email tease.”

Emails create too many hoops for customers to jump through to take action, she explained — from making them open the email, read the email, click a CTA, visit a landing page, click another CTA on the landing page, and on and on. It’s a tiring process.

That’s why you need to tell customers what you want them to do and make it easy for them to do so.

“You can even use two different CTAs in the email: a button that says, ‘Get Started’ and a text link that reads ‘Learn More’ that anchor links to the second section of the landing page [benefits] to deliver the experience they’ve selected,” Guttuso added.

Chart listing the ways to avoid email marketing mistakes with CTA best practices

Here are a few simple tips when crafting your CTA:

  • Make it about the reader by utilizing “my” terminology, like “Update My Outage Alerts”
  • Make the CTA stand out visually from the rest of the copy
  • Keep the verbiage short but actionable

5. Ignoring your Sender’s Reputation

Regardless of how pure your intentions are with your communications, spam filters could still determine that your emails should be sent to the junk folder or blocked from customer inboxes altogether. If this isn’t something your energy utility has kept an eye on before, you could have made some of these common mistakes:

  • Using stereotypical spam words often
  • Sending emails to invalid addresses
  • Receiving low or negative customer engagement with your content

These mistakes can cause your emails to bounce and recipients to unsubscribe. The more frequently this happens, the worse your sender reputation becomes. And, you guessed it: A poor reputation further affects the deliverability of your future emails.

If you’ve made any of the above errors in the past, your sender’s reputation could already be damaged. Luckily, you can remedy this email marketing mistake and improve deliverability rates by:

  • Allowing customers to select what communications they receive
  • Use welcome emails to set expectations
  • Provide excellent, engaging content
  • Deploy emails on a regular schedule
  • Check lists for misspelled addresses
  • Remove inactive subscribers

Fixing past mistakes may take some time, but it will be worth it in the end. You’ll create more engaging email campaigns and build stronger digital customer relationships.

Learn From Others’ Email Marketing Mistakes

Mistakes happen. It’s what makes us human. But these email marketing mistakes don’t have to hinder your energy utility’s relationship with your customers. Learn from others and try to avoid making these common email marketing mistakes. Your customer engagement and satisfaction will thank you.

The experts at Questline Digital can help you avoid common email marketing mistakes and boost customer engagement.

High bill communications is a hot topic (pun intended) for utilities everywhere. Extreme temperatures have impacted billing communications in a big way as scorching summers and frigid winters hit customers’ energy bills. How your utility communicates seasonal costs directly impacts customer satisfaction.

In Questline Digital’s webinar, “Strategies for High Bill Communications,” our expert speakers, Morgan Kriley with Duquesne Light Company and Shantel Johnson with Entergy, shared insights and advice from their own experience with high bill communications.

Become a Trusted Partner for Your Utility’s Customers

Kriley shared early in the discussion that Duquesne Light Company’s (DLC) focus was on being a “Trusted Energy Partner.” With this goal in mind, DLC set out to help its customers with the mission to:

  • Provide good value
  • Charge fair prices
  • Be honest and transparent

DLC’s approach to assisting customers with high bills came down to three goals:

  1. Identify the main factors driving a high bill
  2. Utilize customer insights and persona groups
  3. Develop multichannel campaigns to educate customers

By homing in on these goals, DLC developed four targeted approaches to assisting customers:

Customer choice

“Under Pennsylvania’s Electric Choice Act, customers can choose or shop for a supplier that provides their electricity, which impacts the supply portion of their bill,” Kriley explained. “While it’s not mandatory for customers to shop for a supplier, they can choose the company based on factors such as savings, clean energy sources, and fixed and variable rates.”

As an electric distribution company, DLC is neutral as to whether a customer wants to shop for suppliers. Through its research, though, DLC discovered that 80% of its customers were paying above the default service rate. With these insights, DLC identified an opportunity to initiate conversations about customer choice and educate customers about their options and the impact on their monthly bills.

DLC communicated this information through:

  • Website tutorials, videos and FAQs
  • Targeted email communications
  • Social and display ad campaigns
  • Newsletter features
Example of utility email strategies for high bill communications from DLC

Changing energy rates

In June 2022, DLC had two energy rate increases occur that impacted customers. The utility knew customers would be comparing their bills to the previous year’s bills and wanted to get ahead of the discussion.

“The honesty and transparency piece played a major role in this campaign,” Kriley said. DLC created web resources, such as a website banner and resource hub, in addition to developing social media posts and newsletter features to explain the increased rates. Each resource directed customers to a link that explained why energy prices were rising and what customers could do to help lower their costs.

Example of email from utility strategies for high bill communications

Energy efficiency management

Through recent research, DLC learned that half of its customers actively monitor their electric usage in the hopes of reducing their usage. “They’re closely monitoring their thermostat and using lights and electronics very cautiously,” Kriley said. “Customers really want to know how to best use their energy and when.”

Kriley shared that DLC consistently shares educational materials with customers about energy efficiency and energy savings. In a recent survey, a DLC customer specifically asked, “How can I make my home more efficient for the least amount of money?”

The utility promotes its energy efficiency content in social media posts, newsletters and targeted emails. Additionally, customers receive a usage email each week that lets them compare their usage from the week prior and provides a projected view of their monthly usage.

To assist with these initiatives, DLC also provided free energy efficiency kits to residential customers. The kit included LED light bulbs and night lights.

Example of digital ad from DLC utility strategies for high bill communications

High bill management

As high bills occurred in full force, DLC began seeing more calls to its call centers from customers inquiring about their bills. Kriley shared that the driver of DLC’s high bill communications was empathy, followed by education and action-oriented steps.

“In this email campaign, DLC recognized its responsibility to our customers and, again, utilized the ‘Trust Energy Partner’ message to show customers that we were transparent about the changing energy rates,” Kriley said. “We wanted to provide customers with valuable strategies to manage their current bill and reduce their usage for future bills.”

DLC provided the same resources to customers in a self-serve channel. This gave customers the opportunity to freely find answers and solutions in their own time. “This campaign was a testament to the importance of reaching the right customer at the right time,” Kriley says.

Stepping Up Your High Bill Communications Strategies

Johnson shared ways in which Entergy was taking steps to assist residential customers who may see high bills during summer months in the Southeast. The utility developed a focus and motto for its high bill work: “Temps are up. Costs are up. So we’re stepping up.”

“Our customer strategy leaders gathered a large group of us together to ideate programs that would make a meaningful difference to customers during this time,” Johnson shared.

In addition to its usual bill assistance programs, Entergy began offering new solutions for high summer bills, including:

  • Late fee credits
  • Moratorium on disconnects
  • $10 million in donations
  • Credit card fee credits
  • Energy efficiency events
  • Early security deposit returns

The above services differed slightly based on what service area customers were in, as Entergy serves Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. The programs were nuanced based on the customers’ needs as well as the state regulatory environment.

One of Entergy’s most popular programs was created from $10 million in shareholder donations. This was a one-time, $150 bill credit for qualifying customers. To qualify, customers must have had a total household income of up to 250% of the federal poverty level. This was a part of the targeting criteria that Entergy used to ensure the utility reached the right customers with the right messages. Entergy also partnered with local non-profits, including the United Way, to help distribute those funds.

The online application process for this opened at 9 a.m. on launch day and by 4 p.m. all of the funds had been distributed. To avoid any surprises, customers were aware that this was on a first-come, first-served basis. This was a successful program for Entergy and spoke to the need of its communities.

All hands on deck

For the strategy and execution of its programs, Johnson explained, “This was an all-hands-on-deck effort. I was seven weeks into the job when this call was made, and we gathered together to talk about what programs might be offered and discuss the marketing strategy to reach customers.”

Entergy also implemented customer surveys that are conducted each week to a random selection of 30,000 customers. The purpose of these surveys is to find out what messages and programs are resonating with customers. Additionally, the utility has done mass-marketing efforts to spread the word about its programs, including producing a commercial to play during the New Orleans Saints’ NFL games.

“The goal overall was to drive awareness of the new solutions that we offered to customers during this difficult time,” Johnson said.

Entergy utilized many direct-to-customer channels, such as email, phone calls and text messaging to reach customers. A part of Entergy’s email campaign messaging was to reiterate the new solutions for high summer bills. The utility’s emails performed exceedingly well with a near-54% open rate — well above Entergy’s average 35% open rate, Johnson shared.

Email example of strategies for high bill communications from utility

Additionally, as programs continue to be rolled out, Entergy ensures its call center representatives are well-informed of the programs and services. The utility sends near-daily updated talking points to its call center with the latest information on programs for each state.

Collaboration is Key for Successful High Bill Communications Strategies

A critical element for both Duquesne Light Company and Entergy’s strategies was keeping an open line of communication, not only between utility employees but between the utility and its customers. Kriley and Johnson both emphasized the importance of honesty and transparency throughout all high bill communications.

“Collaboration is always key as we embark on crisis communication strategies like these,” Johnson says.

Learn more about how Questline Digital can help your utility with customer assistance solutions and high bill communications.

Communicating with customers about products, services and other offerings is vital, and email marketing can be an extremely effective channel for these messages. However, reaching a customer’s inbox is much more complicated than drafting a message and hitting send. That’s where email deliverability comes in.

What is email deliverability? It’s the ability to get emails into customer inboxes — where they belong. But why is email deliverability important? And how is it different from delivery rate?

Delivery rate tells you how many emails weren’t bounced or rejected, while deliverability gives you more insight into exactly where the emails landed — in the inbox, spam folder or places like the promotions or social tabs in Gmail.

Basically, deliverability is crucial to ensuring your messages reach customers and it’s a strong measurement of email campaign performance.

So, how do you ensure a high deliverability rate? The following email deliverability factors will determine if your messages are delivered to customers, sent to the junk folder or blocked altogether.

4 Factors that Affect Email Deliverability

  1. Spam filters
  2. Invalid email addresses
  3. Junk mail reports
  4. Low engagement

1. Spam filters

Once upon a time, in the early days of email, recipients got anything and everything all at once — and it was mostly things they wanted. Then spammers showed up, competing for inbox space and attention. Email recipients needed help, and internet service providers (ISPs) came to the rescue. Working with other gatekeeper ISPs, mailbox providers and anti-spam solution providers, they devised a system to keep those spam messages out.

But this is no fairytale. Although your energy utility is undoubtedly not a scammer, your messages can still be blocked or sent to junk if they don’t get an all-clear from email filtering systems.

Anti-spam filters analyze the entire email — sender to footer — and use a complex scoring system to determine which emails should be classified as spam. All of this happens in real-time, too; your email could be doomed to junk mail before the send is even complete if the filter detects these red flags:

  • Bulk mail sent all at once or at odd hours
  • The sender’s identity is unauthenticated with ISPs
  • Poor reputation or inclusion on third-party blacklists
  • Large email (over 60 KB) with attachments
  • Frequent use of common spam words, like “act now” and “risk-free”
  • Inconsistent branding, sending domains and domains in call-to-action links

2. Invalid email addresses

How often your energy utility sends messages to invalid addresses can also affect your deliverability. Addresses can be labeled as “invalid” in two ways:

  • Emails bounce: Messages will “bounce,” or be rejected by a mail server, if there are typos in the address, the server is unavailable or the recipient has a full mailbox.
  • The address is not currently engaged: If a subscriber hasn’t opened an email from your company in a year — or even a month in some cases — their address will be recognized as disengaged.

Continuing to send to these email addresses can hurt your deliverability, even if other recipients are opening and engaging with your messages.

3. Junk mail reports

Possibly the most obvious red flag to an ISP that your email may be spam is when a recipient marks your message as spam. This can happen if a recipient doesn’t remember subscribing to your communications, doesn’t find the content to be relevant, or wants to unsubscribe from your email list quickly and hassle-free.

Though you can’t stop this entirely, sending additional emails to these recipients can negatively affect future deliverability and how ISPs view your messages.

4. Low engagement

ISPs continue to monitor recipients’ behavior after an email is delivered. They can analyze how long an email is open, if the recipient scrolls through the message, if links are clicked and more.

If your recipients don’t positively engage with your content, ISPs may label you as a sender with low or negative engagement, further harming your reputation and increasing your chances of encountering a spam trap.

How to Improve Email Deliverability Rates

There’s no need to fear. You can improve email deliverability and fix any damage caused in the past with these tips:

Chart listing the factors that improve email deliverability
  1. Build your subscriber lists organically. Allow customers to opt-in to emails and select which communications they want to receive and how often they get messages.
  2. Set clear expectations. Start your communications with a welcome message that sets the tone for future emails and familiarizes your customers with your services.
  3. Provide relevant, engaging content. Disengaged recipients spell trouble for customer relationships and spam filters alike. Provide great content your subscribers need and keep subject lines brief, informative and engaging.
  4. Establish a steady deployment pattern. As mentioned above, sending too often or erratically can signal to ISPs that you’re up to no good. Setting a regular schedule for email sends establishes consistency with your customers and ISPs.
  5. Re-engage or remove inactive subscribers. A targeted re-engagement campaign can win back disengaged subscribers and clean up your list by removing those who don’t participate or choose to unsubscribe.
  6. Practice good list hygiene. In addition to removing inactive addresses, Questline Digital Project Manager Summer Corson says senders should regularly check email lists for broken or misspelled addresses, delete duplicated recipients and remove addresses that show up as bounces or who have unsubscribed. “This can help boost their deliverability and open rates for their emails,” she says.

Boost Deliverability with Questline Digital

With our email marketing solutions, reaching your customers’ inboxes is easy and stress-free. Questline Digital’s email deployment specialists ensure your communications exhibit the positive email deliverability factors ISPs look for and monitor sends from start to finish.

Leverage Questline Digital’s email deliverability expertise to reach the right customers with the right messages for your energy utility.