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

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

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

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

Prioritize Proactive Outreach to Utility Customers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Educate Customers on the Benefits of Paperless Utility Bills

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

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

Example of email promoting paperless way of paying utilities with benefits

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

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

Discover the Impact of e-Bill Incentives

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

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

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

Example of email promoting paperless way of paying utilities with incentive

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

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

Example of animated gif promoting paperless utility bills enrollment incentive

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

Make the Paperless Enrollment Process Easy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reach the Next Generation with e-Bill Promotions

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

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

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

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

Reach Remaining Customers with Paperless Ways of Paying Utilities

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

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

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

Rate plan education is an essential part of reaching sustainability initiatives. Utilities that promote rate plan options, improve self-service tools and use messaging that resonates with target audiences can improve customer satisfaction, even during this time of change.

By offering plans that suit their customers’ needs and incentivize energy conservation, and educating customers about those rate plans, utilities can build stronger customer relationships and contribute to a more resilient energy future.

Our recent webinar, “Educating Customers About Rate Plans,” shared insights and strategies from Questline Digital’s Elizabeth Van Horn and Fayetteville Public Works Commission’s Lamont Hinson. They explored how to communicate rate plan information and engage customers in the decision-making process. Plus, Hinson shared real-world experience from Fayetteville PWC’s rate plan promotions.

Keeping Up with Evolving Rate Plans

We have all seen a growing number of rate plan options introduced in the last few years, thanks to the capabilities of AMI and the increasing need to manage demand. This has resulted in a multitude of different types of energy rate structures. While we know the importance of these rate options in making the grid more resilient and greener, the variety of plans can be extremely confusing for customers.

In fact, data from a Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative survey, Rate Design: What Do Consumers Want and Need, reported that nearly half of residential customers don’t know what type of rate plan they have.

The study found that 64% of those customers are most aware of flat rate plans with 36% being aware of time-of-use rate plans. For business customers, 76% were most likely to be aware of flat rate plans and 52% were aware of TOU plans.

“The EIA reports that 63% of U.S. customers have a time-of-use rate plan available to them, but only 7.3% are actually enrolled,” says Elizabeth Van Horn, Account Supervisor for Questline Digital. “There are clearly some missed opportunities right in front of us. Most customers aren’t enrolled in a time-of-use plan, even if they have one available to them. And business customers want alternative rate plans, but don’t know about them. So, awareness and education are lacking among both of these groups.

While there are areas of improvement for customer education, the positive news is that customers do, in fact, want alternative rate plans. The data shows that while more than half of residential consumersare interested in trying one of them, business customers overwhelmingly prefer alternative rate plans.

Knowing that customers want these plans, it’s important to further understand what influences their decisions in enrolling, including:

  • The opportunity to save money
  • Environmental impacts
  • Taking control of energy use

“From what we’ve seen, saving money and customers being able to be in control of their energy use are most likely to hit home. So, leading with those types of messages, especially in the current state of inflation and the rising costs everywhere, is important,” says Van Horn. “Anytime we can preach the message to save money, it’s huge. We also know that customers don’t like not knowing what their energy usage is or how to handle it, so giving them the option to feel like they’re in control is pretty powerful for them.”

Strategies for Increasing Rate Plan Enrollment

When educating customers about rate plans, it’s imperative to explain the ”why” and “what” of rate plans, share the benefits of changing their energy behavior, and provide a rate calculator for customers to use to see firsthand how their energy costs would change on different plans.

“Knowing that customers want alternative rate plans, how do we increase enrollment? Well, there’s a few strategies that we can put into place,” says Van Horn. “First, we need to educate, educate, and educate. Customers don’t know what they don’t know. They’ve been paying for electricity the same way for 140 years. Even though customers are aware that alternative rate plans exist, don’t assume that they know how their rates work or how monthly bills will be affected. A foundation of basic education is needed for customers to make informed decisions.”

Additional strategies for boosting rate plan enrollment include:

  • Answer FAQs upfront in ongoing communications
  • Segment communications and focus on increasing awareness among certain demographic segments
  • Promote the many benefits of alternative rate plans
  • Show, don’t just tell with personalized customer communications
  • Incentivize customers

It’s important to remember that education needs to happen in as many channels and platforms as possible. Customers like to learn in different ways, so you need to make sure you’re offering education in the ways that your customers prefer, including on social media, direct mail, text alerts and more.

Additionally, educating customers about rate plans shouldn’t end after a customer enrolls. You want to make sure that customers understand their new rate plan, that they are benefiting from it, and that you’re there for them if they have questions. This is where your utility’s role as their trusted energy advisor really shines.

Take advantage of the opportunity to send real-time feedback to them. This might include implementing an onboarding campaign that sends a series of nurture emails over the first month that educates customers about the new rate (including usage information).

Following this onboarding period, continue the regular communications with a monthly newsletter segmented for customers on each rate plan. You can include seasonal tips and advice to make sure they understand the plan and continue to benefit throughout the year.

Your customers will appreciate knowing that you’re still there for them, walking them through these plans, even after they’ve made the switch.

Fayetteville PWC: A Rate Plan Success Story

Hinson shared that in 2018, Fayetteville PWC began strategizing its rate plan communications ahead of its time-of-use introduction to customers in 2019.

The utility was adopting time-of-use rates to better align the rates the utility charges with the costs that they pay for electricity. Knowing that they had a full year to communicate the changes to customers, Fayetteville PWC began strategizing its promotions and communicating on multiple platforms, including:

  • Newsletter and email campaigns
  • Social media
  • Community events
  • PWC Connections TV
  • Monthly advertising

The utility used handouts, their website, videos and even a magnet customers could take home to communicate about time-of-use rates. Additionally, they leveraged a variety of community outreach efforts to meet customers in-person to answer questions and get feedback about the changes.

“We didn’t want to stay behind a desk or at a keyboard sending out our messages or just sending out mailers. We knew we had to have boots to the ground,” says Hinson. “So, with the events that we lined up in the community, we used those outreach efforts to also educate, take on questions and get information. We took advantage of those opportunities.”

To assist with the utility’s communications, Fayetteville PWC rolled out various supporting resources throughout the year, including:

  • Online rate calculator, supplied August 2018
  • Hourly usage on new web portal, supplied October 2018
  • Thermostat incentive/engagement programs, supplied November 2018
  • Web portal (Phase 2) rate comparison, supplied March 2019
  • New bill design with TOU, supplied Spring 2019
  • Customer newsletter/email campaign, supplied Spring 2019
  • Conservation calendar, supplied 2019 – Present

Fayetteville PWC also used targeted messaging to reach customers who were EV owners or potential adopters about TOU benefits. The utility used analytics to identify residential customers who have a propensity for EV adoption and sent direct communications to them. Additionally, the utility connected with EV clubs and car dealerships and communicated the rate information through channels like social media, targeted email blasts and a newsletter.

“Keep it simple. Try to keep it as simple as possible,” says Hinson. “We try to break down those ‘journalistic W’s’ so explaining what’s happening, why it’s happening, when it’s happening and, as mentioned, the impact — how the customer could potentially benefit from it.”

In strategizing their communications, Fayetteville PWC’s goals were to educate, increase public engagement and perform targeted outreach. The utility achieved success by beginning its communications early to develop that trust and loyalty among customers, as well as connecting with customers in a variety of formats.

“For us, in order to really see if we have hit our goal, you want to know if your customers have actually received the education, if they understand it. When they’re out amongst their friends or family, they can explain it. That kind of lets you know that they get it,” says Hinson. “You can’t stay locked up in an office and really think that you have an understanding of your customer base. And with targeted outreach — things sometimes can’t just be you sending out the whole net, sometimes you have to target specific accounts, specific customers in order to reach your goal of communicating the message.”

10 Key Steps to Educating Customers About Rate Plans

The advice shared by the experts during this webinar included 10 key ways that utilities can communicate with customers and drive enrollment in new energy rate plans:

  1. Many customers are not aware of the rate plan options available to them. Continuous education is needed.
  2. Customers want alternative rate plans, especially business customers.
  3. Saving money and gaining control of energy usage are powerful motivators for customers. Focus messaging on these benefits.
  4. Use targeted messaging for different customer segments. For example, consider early adopters, millennials, low-income, and EV owners.
  5. Provide resources like a rate calculator to help customers understand how plans will impact them.
  6. Answer common questions upfront in communications. Think about what customers want to know and address those.
  7. Use incentives like bill credits to drive enrollment.
  8. Continue communication after a customer enrolls to ensure they understand the new plan. Provide feedback on their usage and ways to optimize savings.
  9. Meet customers where they are by using a multichannel approach. Use the channels they prefer like email, social, direct mail, etc.
  10. Evaluate the success and impact of communication efforts. Look at enrollment numbers, event feedback and surveys. Make adjustments as needed.

Learn how Questline Digital can help your utility educate customers about new rate plans.

Alternative rate plans are becoming commonplace as energy utilities make efforts to improve grid stability and reach sustainability goals.

Energy providers across the country are implementing residential time-of-use (TOU) rates to help reduce demand on the grid and give customers more control over their energy use. However, encouraging customers to switch to a new rate plan is no easy task.

Most utility customers are accustomed to a flat rate where they are billed based on how much energy they use each month. With residential time-of-use rates, the amount they pay is based on when they use their energy, not just how much energy they use.

Communicating about TOU starts with understanding customer perceptions about alternative rate plans. What do customers think about their current rate? How can a TOU rate help them? What benefits do they care about most? Equipped with this knowledge, customers can make an informed decision on a rate plan that suits their needs and lifestyle.

Barriers to Adoption of Residential Time-of-Use Rates

A significant barrier is getting customers to understand they have rate plan options in the first place. According to the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative’s (SECC) report “Electric Bills and Rate Plans: Consumer Awareness and Understanding,” a majority of consumers are unaware they have rate plan options. In fact, only 28% knew they could choose between rate plans, illustrating what a new concept this is for utility customers.

“There is definitely a lack of customer understanding around rate plans,” says Nathan Shannon, SECC President and CEO. “Only 49% of customers even know what type of rate they have. Energy utilities need to make consumer education about rate plans and how to decode their bill a priority.”

Before energy utilities can promote time-of-use rates, they first need to build customer awareness. While TOU is the third most-known plan (following a traditional flat rate and equal pay-type plans), less than one-third of consumers are familiar with it. Before customers can make the switch, they should clearly understand:

  • What a TOU rate plan is
  • How the rate plan works
  • Key benefits to customers
  • Potential savings (monthly or yearly)
  • Impact on the community and electric grid
  • Recommended energy usage behaviors

The good news is that once customers know they have rate plan options, nearly 70% said they would be interested in signing up for one of them, Shannon notes. That’s why awareness and education are key to garnering customer interest in TOU.

“The hardest part is starting the conversation about TOU and getting customers used to something other than the traditional flat rates,” says Brian Lambert, Manager of Customer Programs & Customer Experience at We Energies. “Once you start having those in-depth conversations about TOU, such as options for shifting load, customers start thinking through what changes they could make in their home or business.”

Residential Customers Care About Savings

Many customers are experiencing financial hardship, especially when it comes to their housing-related expenses. According to SECC’s new survey, “Alleviating Americans’ Energy Burdens,” one-quarter of Americans — and 34% of those earning less than $50,000 per year — report they struggled to pay their electric bills over the past 12 months. Residential time-of-use rate plans can be an opportunity to help utility customers save money on their monthly energy usage.

According to Lambert, customers care most about how a rate plan will save them money. Since the average consumer isn’t familiar with demand charges, they need education on the importance of energy usage behaviors. For example, many customers don’t realize how much they will save by running their dishwasher at night or doing a load of laundry in the morning.

“I think the biggest benefit is the bill savings and that’s our focus area when communicating with customers,” Lambert says. “When we hear from customers regarding their priorities, whether the residential or commercial side, they are looking to maximize bill savings. We help them understand that, in many cases, TOU is going to require a little more attention to when they are using certain appliances versus the traditional flat rate.”

Shannon notes that consumers value concrete benefits that are relevant to their specific situation, such as their lifestyle (renter versus homeowner) or monthly energy usage. Energy utilities should take advantage of bill calculators (with a customer’s usage data included) to show an accurate estimate of how much they can save. He also recommends offering bill protection for the first six months or year when customers switch to residential time-of-use rates. This ensures customers can try the rate plan with nothing to lose.

“Consumers are very literal — they want to know a tangible savings amount,” Shannon says. “If utilities can do more shadow billing or bill predictions, this will encourage rate plan participation even more. Consumers simply want to know, ‘If I take these actions, how much will I save? If I don’t take these actions, how much will it cost me?’”

Customers Also Value Control and Comfort

While saving money is important to utility customers, it’s not the only thing they care about. SECC research finds that utility customers value the “3 C’s”: cost, control and comfort.

“Control, cost and comfort are the three words that resonate very well with customers,” Shannon says. “Saving money and being a good steward of energy is important, but customers also want control over their energy usage and to be comfortable in their home.”

Residential time-of-use rates can give customers the opportunity to control when they use energy. By making small tweaks in their behaviors, customers can lower their monthly energy bill. Energy utilities should communicate the “control” benefit of TOU — something not possible with a traditional flat rate.

Comfort is another factor for customers. Saving money is not a big motivator if they can’t be comfortable in their homes. When communicating about residential time-of-use rates, energy utilities should highlight how they will save money while maintaining comfort.

For example, customers might be worried they will need to turn off their air conditioning on hot summer days. But with an educational campaign, you can demonstrate how a smart thermostat and a few behavioral changes can reduce their A/C usage without impacting home comfort.

“I would say keep it simple for most consumers,” Shannon says. “Consumers are really interested more in the benefits specific to them and their communities. Since this is a new area for many customers, communications should focus on what actions they need to take and what benefits they’ll receive.”

The Best Channels to Communicate About TOU Rates

For We Energies, building customer awareness about residential time-of-use rates is key. The utility communicates with customers via the website, emails, newsletters and traditional means like bill inserts. Since customers view their energy utility as a trusted energy advisor, it’s imperative that utility websites, portals and other channels have intuitive and consumer-friendly TOU information.

We Energies ensures vital residential time-of-use information is readily available to customers, including how the rate works, peak and off-peak times and the general strategy around TOU. The utility also shares an extensive list of high- and moderate-impact appliances for customers to consider when making changes to their energy usage.

“We provide as much guidance as we can on how customers can effectively shift their energy usage,” Lambert says. “For instance, we let them know what the time periods are and what percentage of a week’s hours are off-peak. This provides customers with some additional certainty if they choose to go down this path.”

Make Personalization a Priority for Reaching Customers

Shannon emphasizes the importance of personalized communications about residential time-of-use rates. Since every customer is unique, a one-size-fits-all message is less effective, prompting customers to simply tune it out. Smart meter data can help energy utilities to better understand how TOU will benefit a specific customer. For example, a utility can tell if a customer is an EV owner if they have consistent energy usage at night when they are charging.

“With smart meter data, you could send customers information on TOU rates for nights and weekends,” Shannon explains. “The most crucial thing utilities can do is use the data they do have to better understand customers.”

Perhaps the most important TOU communications for We Energies, Lambert notes, is individual customer conversations. This includes email or phone conversations with the utility’s customer service representatives and business key account managers.

“When engaging with customers, TOU can be an effective part of the conversation about ways to save on their electric bill,” Lambert says. “Customers might think their only option to save is reducing their electric usage. But with TOU, they can save, not by using less, but moving their electric usage around over the course of a day.”

Only the Beginning for Residential Time-of-Use Rate Plans

As the need for alternative rate plans continues to grow, now is the time for energy utilities to refine their residential time-of-use communication strategy. By serving as a trusted energy advisor, utilities can guide customers on their TOU journey, helping them to make the most of the rate plan to save energy and reduce their monthly bill.

“As transportation transitions to electric options and smart devices allow more appliances to be programmed with time elements, customers are going to be more open to TOU,” Lambert says. “As it becomes more accessible, TOU will become an even more vital part of our conversations with customers.”

Educate your customers about residential time-of-use rates with a content marketing solution from Questline Digital.

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.

Your energy utility plays an important role in encouraging customers to go electric. However, there are several key challenges for electric vehicle (EV) adoption that prevent customers from making the switch from gasoline-powered vehicles. In fact, up to 315,000 more EVs could have been on the road last year if adoption barriers were removed.Learn more about the top four customer roadblocks and the best ways to dispel these concerns in your program promotions.

Chart listing the key challenges to EV adoption and how to overcome them

High upfront cost

What energy customers think: Today’s consumers know that electric vehicles are a viable solution to reduce their carbon footprint and improve the environment. However, one of the key challenges for EV adoption is the high upfront cost. Your customers may not be aware of the various incentives available to help lower the purchase cost.

An average electric vehicle costs $61,488, with some electric vehicles costing over $100,000 for luxury models. While this is still more expensive than many gasoline-powered vehicles, that gap is decreasing every year, especially with incentives and maintenance savings for EVs. Additionally, the cost of a Level 2 home charger starts around $500 to $800, with $1000 to $1500 for the installation of a new service panel and 240-volt outlet if needed.

What your message should be: While electric vehicles have higher upfront costs, they are less expensive to own and operate. Therefore, customers are able to save money over the long run. Since there are fewer moving parts to break down, electric vehicles are also cheaper to maintain. Plus, customers never have to worry about getting an oil change.

To counteract this key challenge for EV adoption, be sure to provide your customers with helpful resources on federal and state incentives. Another significant benefit of purchasing an electric vehicle is not worrying about high gas prices. Remind customers that they can avoid the gas station altogether as EV owners. Make this cost-of-ownership comparison clear with infographics and calculators on your website that help customers educate themselves on vehicle options.

Range anxiety

What energy customers think: One of the top key challenges for EV adoption is range anxiety, or a fear that their electric vehicle will run out of charge before reaching its destination. In fact, range anxiety is often cited as the main reason why consumers are hesitant about purchasing an electric vehicle.

Range anxiety is a feeling of dread when drivers can’t find an open charging station and worry about being stranded on the side of the road. It’s important to note that drivers of gasoline-powered vehicles can also experience range anxiety. This can happen when a driver’s fuel level drops too low and they can’t find a gas station.

What your message should be: To reduce range anxiety, educate your customers about how electric vehicles can fit into their everyday lives. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), the average American in an urban area drives just 31 miles per day. Most EVs can travel more than 100 miles on a single charge, and some models can travel between 200 and 400 miles. For drivers who don’t regularly drive long distances, an electric vehicle can be a practical option.

Access to charging stations

What energy customers think: Another key challenge for EV adoption, your customers think there’s a limited number of EV charging stations compared to the number of gas stations. As a result, they have concerns about access to charging infrastructure. For example, when taking a road trip, customers want to be confident that plentiful charging stations are available along the route.

What your message should be: Inform your customers that charging stations are popping up everywhere as electric vehicles grow in popularity. EV charging stations can be found in various locations like shopping centers, local businesses, apartment complexes and more. There are also charging stations in every state, including Alaska. To help your customers find charging station locations, share this helpful resource from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Currently, there are 103,000 charging stations (free and private) in the United States. However, there are only 9,300 free charging stations that don’t require a parking fee to access. In comparison, there are more than 145,000 public gas stations, illustrating that EV charging stations still lag behind.

Your energy utility should educate customers on the importance of home EV chargers and offer rebates to help offset the costs. In fact, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy finds that over 80% of EV charging occurs at home during the overnight hours. If customers make a habit of plugging in their electric vehicle every night, they will be less likely to experience range anxiety or even need access to a charging station. It’s also important to highlight that customers can charge their vehicles for free at public charging stations, eliminating the cost to charge altogether. By providing educational resources with charging station locations as well as cost-saving rebates, energy utilities can mitigate this key challenge for EV adoption.

Impact on electric bill

What energy customers think: Many consumers like the idea of owning an electric vehicle but have concerns about higher electric bills or overall power reliability. In addition to the impact on their monthly bill, your customers also have questions about at-home charging options:

  • What charging options are available?
  • How much do they cost?
  • How long does it take to charge an EV?
  • What type of equipment is required for installation?

What your message should be: Reach out to EV customers to share time-of-use (TOU) rate options to help them reduce their monthly bills. By charging during off-peak hours, they can save energy costs and help lower demand on the grid. Also be sure to share opportunities for customers to save money when they purchase an electric vehicle, whether through your utility or a government program.

If your energy utility has a smart charger rebate program, educate customers about the pros and cons of each charger. For example, Level 2 smart chargers offer faster charging times but do not plug into a standard 120-volt household outlet. Customers are looking to their energy provider to help them decide what charger is the right fit for their lifestyle and budget. Infographics, videos and articles on your website can help educate customers on the best option for them. By countering these key challenges for EV adoption, your energy utility can help drive interest in electric vehicles and increase customer engagement in your EV program promotions.

A content strategy from Questline Digital can help you overcome the key challenges to EV adoption.