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

Drawing from the Data

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

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

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

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

Example statistics from 2022 Energy Utility Benchmarks

Update on Apple Privacy Changes

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

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

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

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

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

Metric Breakdowns Per Category

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

  • Welcome Series
  • Program Promotions
  • Business Customer Engagement

Welcome Series

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

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

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

Program Promotions

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

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

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

Example statistics from 2022 Energy Utility Benchmarks

Business Customer Engagement  

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

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

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

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

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

Example statistic from 2022 Energy Utility Benchmarks

Data to Drive Your Utility Forward

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

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

Newer digital media like TikTok and NFTs may get all the headlines, but according to research email newsletters still have 40 times the effectiveness of social media. Campaign Monitor confers, noting, “These emails…seem to make an impact. They’ve been shown to drive sales, boost social media reach and increase website traffic and engagement.”

Why? Because email newsletters help build:

  • Customer engagement, turning one-time customers into repeat buyers
  • Strong, direct relationships with audiences
  • Habit and loyalty

According to Questline Digital Marketing Director Bethany Farchione, “Newsletters are an authentic way to regularly communicate with customers. Whether you’re handpicking relevant content for your audience or writing a personalized intro, you’re talking with your customers directly and curating an experience for them. It’s difficult to find another medium that offers this level of engagement.”

However, before the content can speak for itself, audiences must first be drawn into the newsletter with the best email subject lines.

A newsletter email subject line is the first thing readers see when they scan their inbox. It is your utility’s initial chance to garner attention, connect with customers and build trust with your brand. The best subject lines must balance being informative and engaging, previewing the valuable information inside and prompting readers to open your newsletter to learn more.

Repeatable Newsletter Subject Lines Take Precedence

According to Questline Digital’s 2022 Energy Utility Benchmarks Report, the best email subject lines utilize a repeatable format, such as “Utility Name + eNews + Month,” delivering higher engagement than newsletters with new or custom subject lines each month.

In fact, repeatable newsletter email subject lines experienced:

  • 28.1% higher open rate compared to newsletters that used new/custom subject lines each month
  • 23.3% higher click-to-open rate (CTOR) compared to newsletters that used new/custom subjects each month

The top 5 most popular non-custom newsletter subject lines of 2021

Questline Digital’s Energy Utility Benchmarks Report found that non-custom subject lines achieved more engagement than custom subject lines. The following are the top non-custom newsletter subject lines from all utility email deployments in 2021.

Chart listing the top 5 most popular non custom email newsletter subject lines

The top 5 most popular custom newsletter subject lines of 2021

Despite performance metrics data showing that non-custom subject lines performed better, custom subject lines still delivered engagement from customers. The following are the top custom newsletter subject lines from all utility email deployments in 2021.

Chart listing the top 5 most popular custom email newsletter subject lines

Tips for Writing the Best Email Subject Lines for Newsletters

Even though Questline Digital data has shown that repeatable newsletter subject lines perform better than customized subject lines, it’s still important to test the best subject lines for your specific audience. Consider performing A/B tests with varying subject lines or segmenting your audiences to see which newsletter attracts more opens or clicks.

When creating customized newsletter email subject lines, consider:

  • Personalizing the subject line with your receiver’s name
  • Be brief; no more than 40 characters
  • Put relevant information at the beginning; subject lines may get cut off
  • Make the subject line timely
  • Try using an emoji to capture attention
  • Offer value within your subject line

When creating repeatable newsletter subject lines, remember:

  • Keep it short and to the point
  • Include your utility’s name
  • Consider incorporating the month or date
  • Try to feature the topic of the newsletter

No matter which subject lines you run with, remember to use a familiar sender name and avoid a “no-reply” sender name. An un-optimized sender name may send your newsletter to the spam or trash folders.

Detailed Suggestions for Writing the Best Newsletter Subject Lines

Connecting with customers in crowded inboxes is no easy feat. When customers look to subject lines for whether or not to open an email, it’s important to put your best foot forward. When writing email newsletter subject lines, consider:

  • Length
  • A/B testing
  • Segmentation
  • Action words

Email newsletter subject line length

Email platforms only allow so many words and characters in a subject line. That’s why it’s important to keep subject lines on the shorter side. Test character and word limits to see what resonates most with your customers, but in general, we suggest staying within six and 10 words or 50 characters.

A/B testing for newsletter subject lines

As mentioned above, testing for what resonates with your customers is imperative. Consider writing different subject lines for various email newsletter sends to see what delivers more opens or clicks. Test word length, humor versus serious tones and including the value of the content. Testing allows your utility to see what makes an impact with customers so you can continue using similar subject lines down the road.

Incorporate segmentation and personalization

When it comes to emails, no one enjoys a one-size-fits-all approach. Opening an email should be an experience for customers to see products and solutions that fit their interests or needs. By segmenting your email newsletters and developing subject lines that highlight that personalization, your utility will show it cares about connecting with customers and providing them with valuable information.

Utilize action words in your newsletter subject lines

How many times have words like “Hurry, SOS, Ending Soon” prompted you to open an email you otherwise may have scrolled past? We’re willing to bet fairly often. Although these specific words are more fear-based action words, prompting a FOMO (fear of missing out) reaction, there are many other action words that can generate similar responses from your utility’s customers. Some of the most well-received action words include:

  • Update
  • Join
  • Congratulations
  • Last Chance
  • Final Offer

Avoid using special characters or all caps in subject lines, as these will typically catch the eyes of spam filters.

Make a Good First Impression with Newsletter Email Subject Lines

First impressions are everything and a subject line is the best chance your utility has when it comes to newsletters. Make it count by considering your utility’s message, the value to its customers and why they should open your email. Remember: If it doesn’t pique your interest, it won’t pique your customers’ interests either.

Effective subject lines are critical in engaging with utility customers. Put time and effort into crafting one and the next best email subject line for newsletters could be yours.

Learn more about building lasting customer engagement and satisfaction with Questline Digital’s residential and business newsletter solutions.

The sky darkens. Thunder rumbles in the distance. There’s a boom! The power goes out. An energy utility customer has an important project due later in the day. Will the power be back on before then? Does her energy provider even know it’s out?

Power outages are a frustrating experience for customers, negatively impacting their daily lives. Both residential and business customers depend on outage communications from their energy utility to mitigate the impact of an outage and plan their day accordingly.

Depending on how your energy utility handles the situation, the right outage communications can actually improve customer satisfaction. Discover what actions to take before, during and after an outage to ensure your customers are prepared when the lights go out.

What are outage communications?

Energy utility customers don’t want to be left in the dark during a power outage. For energy utilities, outage communications are a vital way to keep customers informed when a storm is approaching or when an outage occurs. Outage communications, whether emails, text alerts or social posts, provide important details like the number of customers impacted, locations affected by the outage and estimated restoration times.

Every energy utility has a different strategy for handling outage communications, but those with higher levels of customer satisfaction have a few things in common. In particular, they focus on continuous and transparent communications with their customers.  

How do outage communications impact utility customer satisfaction?

For energy utilities, the right outage communications strategy is essential for long-term customer satisfaction. Questline Digital’s metrics find that 82% of customers prefer proactive communications during an outage. Additionally, customers are more responsive to outage communications than other types of energy utility messages.

According to Questline Digital’s Energy Utility Benchmarks Report, the open rate of outage communication emails is 31.4%, the highest engagement next to Welcome Series and billing notifications. Not surprisingly, energy utilities using outage communications are experiencing higher customer satisfaction numbers. For example, Questline Digital clients using outage alerts received some of the highest approval ratings in their respective segments.

J.D. Power has measured a direct connection between outage communications and customer satisfaction. According to the J.D. Power 2018 Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study, overall satisfaction among customers who receive outage communications is much higher than among those who do not receive such information.

“Proactive communications, primarily delivered through digital channels, such as email, text message or social media post, are having a significant positive impact on residential electric utility customer satisfaction,” said John Hazen, senior director of the energy practice at J.D. Power. “Power outages are going to happen. The more proactive electric utilities are in clearly communicating information about the cause, anticipated duration and repair of an outage, the more satisfied their customers will be with their overall service.”

According to Chartwell’s 2020 Residential Consumer Survey, 60% of customers were satisfied with their energy utility’s communications during outages. However, this was dependent on how well the utility communicated estimated restoration times and what type of communication channels were used.

What messages to send before, during and after a storm

Energy utilities need to consider what outage communications will be sent out before, during and after an outage, and how best to reach customers to achieve higher levels of customer satisfaction. The right outage communications strategy makes all the difference, whether your energy utility is sharing storm and outage safety tips ahead of storm season or sending power outage notification emails to keep customers informed.

Best practices for outage preparation emails

The prep work starts long before a storm is imminent. Energy utilities should send outage communications at the start of summer and winter storm seasons, informing customers of key services like outage text alerts and outage maps, as well as essential safety tips. If your energy utility has an online outage center, it’s important to make it current and have a backup plan is in place in case the technology fails.

For example, a Southeast energy utility developed a creative campaign to promote text alerts that emboldened customers with the strong message of “Take Your Power Back.” The powerful campaign inspired customers to sign up to receive power restoration alerts and other outage-related texts so they could prepare before a storm or potential outage.

The campaign targeted customers who were not already signed up for text alerts with messaging focused on the benefits of real-time notifications. A clear call-to-action drove customers to My Account to sign up. By receiving these instant outage communications, the campaign emphasized how customers would no longer feel powerless during an outage.

Example of outage communications email to improve utility customer satisfaction

To prepare customers ahead of time, Duke Energy promotes its mobile app on social media as an easy way to report outages and check for restoration updates. Outage communications like this social media campaign help customers to better prepare for future outages, ensuring greater customer satisfaction.

Example of outage communications social post to improve utility customer satisfaction

Best practices for power outage notification emails

During a storm, emails, text alerts and social posts communicate that energy utilities are ready and have a solid restoration plan in place. These messages should also inform customers about the size of the outage, which areas are affected, what caused the outage and when power is estimated to be restored.

When a winter storm hit the Northeast, PSEG Long Island sent out a power outage notification email informing customers that the storm was causing hazardous weather conditions. The email also alerted customers that the energy utility’s crews were working to restore power to all customers affected as quickly as possible.

Example of outage communications email to improve utility customer satisfaction

To make it easy for customers to report an outage or receive updates, the outage communication also provided links to PSEG Long Island’s Storm Center, outage map and social media channels. It also included helpful storm safety tips.

Example of outage communications social post to improve utility customer satisfaction
Example of outage communications message to improve utility customer satisfaction

Consumers Energy sent a power outage notification email to share important details with its Michigan customers about the restoration process underway, while also being transparent that more severe weather is expected. The email provided safety tips and links where customers could check the status of an outage and sign up for restoration text alerts.

Example of outage communications email to improve utility customer satisfaction

Best practices for utility power restored alerts

Once a storm has passed and power has been restored, utility power restored alerts are the final step in your outage communications. These communications notify customers that power has been restored and thank them for their patience.

Following the damage caused by Hurricane Ida, Entergy shared regular updates regarding the power restoration process on Twitter. One post linked to the utility’s newsroom, which highlighted that the Category 4 hurricane commanded the largest restoration workforce in the company’s history. While showcasing the impressive work of the Entergy team, the utility’s power restored alert tempered expectations for customers who may still be without power.

Example of outage communications social post to improve utility customer satisfaction

When an outage happens, it can make or break the energy utility customer experience. But the way your energy utility responds to the situation makes all the difference. For long-term customer satisfaction, your energy utility needs an outage communications strategy that is ongoing, transparent and connects with customers on multiple channels.

Discover how an Outage Communications solution from Questline Digital can boost customer satisfaction for your energy utility.

Creating a content strategy without using performance metrics is like taking a road trip without a map — and without a destination in mind. You won’t know how to get there, and you won’t even know when you’ve arrived! Performance metrics are the roadmap that guide your content strategy and the signpost that tells you when you’ve achieved your goals. Without them, energy utility marketers would be lost.

What performance metrics should guide your content strategy? There are three major milestones that energy utility marketers should look for in their digital marketing KPIs:

  1. Popularity
  2. Engagement
  3. Effectiveness

How to measure the popularity of content

Your content won’t achieve any of its goals if your customers don’t see it. The first performance milestone assesses the popularity of content by looking at the pageviews that measure how many times an article was clicked or the video views that indicate the number of times a customer started watching a video.

It’s important to understand that popularity metrics like pageviews only measure how many times a customer clicked on a piece of content — they do not tell you if that content is engaging or effective. But pageviews indicate that your content covers the right topics (or not) and if you’re doing a good job of conveying those topics with enticing headlines or links.

Depending on your content strategy, it may also be valuable to measure the source of these pageviews: Did these clicks come from social media, a newsletter or other email, or search engine results? This will help you understand if particular topics are more popular with customers on social media, for example, or if certain headlines generate traffic from search engines.

How to measure content engagement

This is where marketers can distinguish popular content from high-quality content. If an article generates a lot of pageviews, but customers don’t stay on the page long, you might have a good topic but a bad article. Your audience is looking, but they apparently don’t like what they see.

Engagement metrics like time on page for articles and infographics and percent completion for videos tell you if customers find your content to be interesting or valuable. When the average time on page is two minutes for a 500-word article — or close to one minute for a 60-second video — it’s a strong indication that customers think your content is useful and engaging and they’re spending quality time with it.

How to measure if your content strategy is effective

The most engaging content in the world won’t help you reach your marketing destination if customers don’t take action. That’s why the final milestone is so important: It measures if your content is effective at achieving your goals.

For many energy utilities, the primary goal of their content strategy is to build long-term engagement and strong digital customer relationships. The engagement metrics mentioned above will be your primary way to measure if that strategy is effective. In addition, you can measure the open reach of eNewsletters to see what percentage of your customers engage with your content over the course of a year. You can look at pages-per-visit or return visitors metrics on your website to see if customers are engaging with multiple content assets over time.

But what if your marketing goals are more specific, such as driving program participation or marketplace sales? To determine if your content strategy is effective, you can measure click-through rate to see what percentage of customers clicked on a link or CTA and conversion rate to see how many of them completed a signup or purchase on the landing page.

Performance metrics are critical to a successful content strategy

Don’t get lost on your marketing journey! Let performance metrics be your guide to a successful content strategy. By identifying popular topics and engaging content, and making sure that content supports your marketing goals, the right performance metrics will help you measure and optimize your energy utility’s content strategy.

Download the Energy Utility Benchmarks Report to see how your content strategy compares to industry performance metrics.

Our world revolves around relationships — from romantic love to rapport with coworkers. For energy utilities, digital customer relationships are vital to grow customer engagement, increase program conversions and improve customer satisfaction scores. In fact, brands that lead in great digital customer experiences outperform the competition by nearly 80%.

How does your energy utility build stronger digital customer relationships?

Just like you need to join a club to make new friends or download a dating app to meet someone special, your energy utility needs the right tools to connect with customers. Questline Digital’s 2021 Energy Utility Benchmarks Report provides industry trends, insights and data to help energy utilities build digital relationships through consistent customer touchpoints. Read on for key takeaways from this year’s report.

Infographic showing how energy utilities accelerate digital customer relationships with performance metrics

Digital engagement is booming

The coronavirus pandemic has forever changed consumer behavior — and customers in 2021 expect to have a digital relationship with their energy utility.

This relationship goes beyond transactional messages like billing notices, outage alerts and other generic emails. Your customers are looking for ongoing touchpoints that address their unique needs and interests, such as relevant program promotions, educational eNewsletter content and behavioral emails based on their actions. 

With record-high email open and engagement rates last year, it was clear that customers wanted to hear from their energy provider during the pandemic. In fact, the average open rate of 40.4% in March 2020 was 49% higher than Questline Digital’s previous benchmark rate. Even customers who are less digitally savvy opted for the convenience of digital communications. For example, paperless billing promotions experienced a 7.5% CTOR in 2020, more than 53% higher than the previous year.

In 2021, as life begins to return to normal, maintaining strong digital customer relationships will continue to be a driving force of energy utility communications.

Personalization is powerful

Today’s consumers are accustomed to a world of personalization and expect a similar experience from their energy provider. Personalization is a must-have marketing strategy to drive customer engagement and build stronger digital relationships.

The latest research finds that personalized emails deliver six times higher transaction rates, and targeted emails generate 58% of all revenue for marketers.In 2020, energy utilities took advantage of personalization in virtually every touchpoint, including Welcome Series, eNewsletters, program promotions and ancillary messages. For example, many energy utilities now use abandoned cart emails, popular in the retail industry, to boost traffic to their marketplaces.

Segmentation is a popular tactic in the “personalization” bucket, especially when looking to capture attention with program promotions and eNewsletters. Instead of sending a generic message to an entire email list, many energy utilities are now sending relevant messages to a targeted segment. Whether creating marketing personas for paperless billing campaigns or industry-specific eNewsletters to reach business customers, energy utilities have successfully utilized segmentation to increase conversions and engagement.

Digital engagement: The gift that keeps on giving

Digital engagement with one customer touchpoint offers far-reaching benefits and extends to other types of energy utility communications.

For example, Welcome Series graduates — customers who have opened at least one Welcome Series email — engage with future email communications from their energy utility at a 29.8% higher rate compared to non-graduates. The higher engagement from relevant, consistent eNewsletters is another benefit of ongoing customer touchpoints. Our Benchmarks data finds residential eNewsletter readers open promotional emails at a 16.1% higher rate.

In 2020, energy utilities discovered the true value of digital customer relationships, in good times and in bad. Engaged customers with an established digital relationship with their energy utility were much easier to reach than unengaged customers. That’s why it’s essential for energy utilities to start building stronger digital relationships now, so they can easily connect with customers when the unexpected happens.

Accelerate your digital customer relationships

Two-way communication is key for any successful relationship, and this is especially true between energy utilities and their customers. It’s all too easy for customers to lose interest in their energy utility’s marketing messages if they aren’t relevant or don’t provide some benefit to their daily lives. To accelerate your utility’s digital customer relationships, start planning your engagement strategy for every touchpoint throughout the customer journey.

Download the Energy Utility Benchmarks Report to discover more industry trends, data and insights to build stronger digital customer relationships.