As energy costs rise and inflation continues to impact household budgets, a growing number of utility customers may qualify for low-income assistance programs. And while these customers share many of the same interests and needs as utilities’ general customer base — from an interest in smart home technology to reducing their energy usage — identifying and reaching customers in need of low-income bill assistance is often a challenge for utilities.

To connect with low-income customers, your energy utility needs to take a closer look at this unique audience and what barriers exist to reaching them.

Easing the Energy Burden for Low-Income Families

Low-income customers come from every walk of life, from rural communities to major metropolitan areas. They represent all ages and are made up of households with and without children. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficiency Economy, low-income households spent an average of 8.1% of their income on energy bills. In contrast, the average U.S. customer spends just 2.3%.

While income is the major characteristic that differentiates this group from higher-income customers, demographics also come into play. The median energy burden is 43% higher for Black households, 45% higher for Native American households, and 20% higher for Hispanic households. These customers look to their energy provider for support and understanding, as well as utility low-income assistance programs to help ease their energy burden.

The reality is that barriers exist for many customers to take advantage of utility low-income assistance programs. One of the biggest hurdles is basic awareness of these programs. In fact, only 46% of these customers are familiar with utility assistance for low-income families to help with their monthly electric bill, according to the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative’s (SECC) research. Awareness was even lower for energy efficiency programs. Only 33% knew about energy efficiency upgrades offered by their energy utility.

Connecting Customers to Relevant Low-Income Assistance Programs

For energy utilities, building awareness is key to driving interest and participation in financial assistance programs. This starts with utilizing various communications to connect low-income customers with relevant programs like low-income utility bill assistance and budget billing.

FirstEnergy took advantage of a segmented email campaign to reach low-income customers in multiple states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and New Jersey. Each message focused on a specific government assistance program that either helped to pay a portion of their energy bill or provided more consistent monthly bills.

The emails utilized personalization with the customer’s first name in either the headline or email salutation. Some of the programs were segmented based on homeowners or renters. This email campaign was successful in enrolling customers into utility low-income assistance programs, especially during the winter high bill season.

Sample email promoting low-income assistance programs to utilities LMI customers

National Grid wanted to get the word out to multiple communities about available financial assistance programs. The utility partnered with Questline Digital to produce a series of four educational webinars. To reach a wide range of customers, the webinars were produced with closed captioning and broadcast separately in Spanish and Portuguese. The webinars also included a video of an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter.

“The webinar format lends itself to education because of the interactivity,” said Brian Lindamood, Vice President of Marketing and Content Strategy at Questline Digital in a recent American Public Power Association webinar. “You can answer customer questions live during the event, and you can also reach a lot of customers at the same time. For the four webinars in this series, almost 9,800 customers registered.”

Budget billing is another relevant program to promote to a low-income audience. Encourage customers to sign up for this program to keep their bills more consistent and avoid any surprises.

To relate to customers who face hardship with unexpected expenses like doctor visits and car repairs, Duquesne Light Company used the message, “Life is unpredictable. Your electric bill shouldn’t be.” The email campaign communicated the key benefits of Budget billing: consistent bills (even with high electric usage) and easier budgeting.

Example of email from utility communicating low-income customer assistance

Energy Efficiency Help for Low-Income Customers

In addition to offering payment options to make it easier to pay their monthly bill, low-income customers benefit from energy efficiency tips and advice. To ease the energy burden for both homeowners and renters, energy utilities are making energy efficiency programs a priority.

By improving energy efficiency, low-income customers can better manage energy use in their homes, which has a profound impact on their monthly bills. Energy providers should reach out to low-income customers with energy-saving products and utility low-income assistance programs focused on energy efficiency upgrades.

PSEG Long Island educated income-eligible customers about the utility’s Residential Energy Affordability Partnership (REAP) to help them lower costs through a free home energy assessment. Each email message included a testimonial from a PSEG Long Island customer who benefited from the REAP program.

“I’m a huge fan of testimonials,” Lindamood said. “If you can get a customer to share their real-life experience with a program that helped, that will really resonate with other customers. Testimonials add a lot of authenticity to your message.”

Sample of utilities using an email to promote low-income assistance programs

For energy utilities, another aspect of improving energy efficiency is a focus on multifamily building energy efficiency. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, more than 36% of people in the United States currently rent — and 60% of renters live in multifamily dwellings. That’s why an increasing number of utilities are creating programs to help property managers make energy efficiency retrofits.

One example is the City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s Comprehensive Affordable Multifamily Retrofits Program (CAMR), which helps property owners of low-income multifamily buildings take advantage of energy savings opportunities. The municipal utility has 8,000 multifamily buildings currently in the pipeline. The program, launched in 2022, features three key approaches:

  • Energy efficiency opportunities
  • Building electrification (natural gas to electric)
  • Onsite solar through virtual net metering

“There’s a lot of opportunity, but it’s a challenging market, especially here in L.A. where we have a lot of old apartment buildings that have not been upgraded in a long time — if ever,” said David Jacot, Director of Efficiency Solutions at LADWP. “Many property owners are struggling and don’t have the ability to invest in their properties.”

Adoption of Smart Technologies for Low-Income Customers

Smart energy technologies, ENERGY STAR® appliances and rooftop solar panels can seem like luxuries to even the typical energy consumer. However, it’s not only higher-income customers who have an interest in them. Beyond communications about low-income utility bill assistance, energy utilities should provide educational resources about smart home technology.

When making purchasing decisions, a variety of drivers spark an interest in smart energy technologies for low-income customers. For example, the primary driver to purchase smart thermostats is saving money and making their home more comfortable. When purchasing smart appliances or smart lighting, low-income customers are motivated by the ease of use. For rooftop solar panels and community solar, a passion for helping the environment is a significant motivator.

Despite these drivers, smart energy adoption remains a challenge. According to SECC research, 28% of low-income customers believe that these smart energy technologies are not worth the effort. To encourage adoption, reinforce the fact that these technologies are beneficial for both saving money and maintaining comfort in their homes. It’s also important to provide insights on the positive impact on the energy grid and local community.

Reach Utility Low-Income Customers with a Relevant Message

As this research demonstrates, low-income customers share many of the same values and motivations as higher-income customers. To better connect with this audience, it’s vital to increase awareness about utility low-income assistance programs, energy efficiency programs and smart energy technologies.

With the right messaging, your energy utility can effectively reach this audience with relevant utility bill assistance and other resources and help them achieve their energy goals.

Learn how a payment assistance campaign from Questline Digital can proactively reach low-income customers with important program information.

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.

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

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

Customers want to know:

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

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

Remember to:

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

Why Are Energy Costs Rising?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Address the Cost of Energy

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

Do your customers know this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Example of content marketing to educate customers about rising energy costs

Rising energy costs affect customers in different ways

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

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

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

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

Example of newsletter educating utility customers about rising energy costs

Reach Customers With the Right Message in the Right Channel

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

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

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

Email Example: Rate Change Message

Example of email communicating utility rate change to customers

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

Direct Mail Example: Rate Increase Message

Example of direct mail communicating rate increase to utility customers

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

Web Page Example: Rate Education

Example of utility website educating customers about energy rates

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

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

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

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

Social Media Example: Peak-Hour Reminders

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

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

Social Media Example: Bill Assistance Programs

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

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

Urgent Need for Proactive Communications

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

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

Eugene Ayuyao is a strong advocate for helping those in need. It’s no surprise, then, that her professional title at Southern California Edison (SCE) is Senior Manager of Income Qualified and Disadvantaged Communities Programs.

When speaking with Ayuyao, it’s clear that her passion runs deeper than just a job title. She believes in the cause and will do anything in her power to help create equal opportunities for all the low-income, underserved, diverse and vulnerable communities in the utility’s service area.

Ayuyao’s mission is to help these disadvantaged communities, ensuring they have the same access to technologies and assistance. She has a team of 30 individuals who implement new programs and help these customers in various capacities. “I’m really proud of every single program we manage and the work my team does day in and day out to serve our low-income customers,” she says.

Headshot of Eugene Ayuyao interview for Energy Spotlight

Ayuyao and her team work with 20 to 30 programs on average that make a positive impact to customers in need. “These programs are not just about energy efficiency and energy savings — they were created to really look at the health, comfort and safety of our customers,” Ayuyao says. Some of these programs include:

  • Energy savings assistance program: Customers who qualify as low-income can receive energy efficient appliances at no cost to them 
  • Critical care back-up battery program: Qualifying customers who live in a high fire risk area can receive a portable battery at no cost in case of loss of electricity during wildfires
  • Energy assistance fund program: This initiative offers grants to customers in difficult financial situations to help them pay their bills

As the utility industry continues to push forward with new technologies, Ayuyao is keen to remind the industry that there are still low-income customers who may not have access to such innovations. “As such, we partner with community based organizations who are typically well positioned to engage with the hardest to reach customers in our service area,” she notes. “Whenever we introduce new technologies, new initiatives…it is our responsibility that no one gets left behind.”

To assist in this endeavor, SCE currently offers its communications in 16 different languages. “There’s such a diverse community that we serve and we want to make sure every single one gets the help they need,” says Ayuyao.

Interestingly, if Ayuyao wasn’t in the energy industry, she would be following her family’s footsteps in the medical field. She laughs, saying that her parents, two brothers and sister-in-law are all physicians and boast about making a difference in people’s lives. Although she doesn’t disagree with that, she says, “They save lives, but being in this field of energy efficiency, I get to brag about saving the world.”

Outside of Ayuyao’s work, she likes to stay active and travel with her wife and two Pomeranians, Ash and Andi.

Questline Digital connected with Ayuyao to get her thoughts on changes in the industry, the evolution of energy and advice for those entering the utility space.

How did you get started in the energy utility industry?

Prior to joining SCE, I was involved in designing and developing new LED fixtures. This was the time when the technology was fairly new and most products in the market were either incandescent or CFLs. With this experience, I successfully landed a manager role at SCE and became responsible for implementation and oversight of their residential lighting programs.

Since then, my team’s coverage has expanded to other residential programs such as Energy Upgrade California Home Upgrades, Plug Load, Multifamily, New Construction and Behavioral Programs.

In 2016, I was given the opportunity to handle Commercial and Industrial Energy Efficiency contracts that focused on generating efficiency in various industries within our service area. In 2019, I was given another opportunity to manage SCE’s income-qualified programs, where I continued to deliver energy efficiency and bill assistance programs to the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach customers.

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

Technology has definitely played a big role in the change. We are seeing an increase in smart technologies with greater emphasis in addressing behavioral changes and more sustainable approaches to energy efficiency.

The social media evolution has also paved the way to reach more customers and get them engaged in learning about energy efficiency. Lastly, regulatory changes and the focus on clean energy is certainly redefining our strategy as an organization.

What campaign or initiative are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of our current income-qualified programs where we provide benefits to SCE’s long-term growth strategy and corporate responsibility through: 

  • Healthier and more resilient communities, saving energy and lowering bills for income-qualified customers, disadvantaged and vulnerable communities.
  • Ensuring access and deployment of electrification and modernized technologies to income-qualified customers, disadvantaged and vulnerable communities in support of achieving SCE’s and California’s aggressive clean energy goals in an equitable manner.
  • Developing strategic partnerships and supporting job creation that benefit income-qualified customers, disadvantaged and vulnerable communities. 

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

I don’t think this is original at all, but I would have wanted to have a referral base lead generation incentive program within the energy efficiency space. For example, campaigns focused on “Earn While Your Neighbor Saves” or “Earn a Buck to be Green.”

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

Government policies, political, environmental and social pressures all contribute to the challenges we face in the energy industry today.

Finish this sentence: If I weren’t working in program management, I would be…

I would probably be a doctor.

How do you anticipate the world of energy evolving in the coming years? What are you looking forward to?

There will definitely be a shift in the use of cleaner energy options to address the rising impact of climate change. Examples of these efforts include building and transportation electrification.

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

I highly recommend using a customer lens when making operational decisions.

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

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

Helping utility customers with deferred payment programs

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

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

Resounding results and ROI 

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

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

Customer engagement snapshot   

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

Customer satisfaction and cost savings

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

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

Deferred payment programs provide hope during hardship

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

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