Water is the most important natural resource, yet many customers are unaware of the benefits of conserving it. Over the past two decades, more than 50% of the United States regularly experienced drought conditions due to the water supply running low.

As water conservation concerns grow, now is the time for water utilities to connect with customers and explain the reasons to conserve water.

“With monthly rates continuing to rise and the water supply running dangerously low in many parts of the country, there has never been a more critical time for water utilities to proactively communicate with their customers,” said Andrew Heath, Senior Director of Utilities Intelligence at J.D. Power in a recent press release.

Share the Facts About Water Conservation

Many customers don’t pay attention to their water consumption or realize the strong impact that water conservation efforts could have on both their daily lives and their communities. It’s up to utilities to share that essential information.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans use around 82 gallons of water every day in their homes.

To pique customers’ interest, utilities should share facts about water conservation. For example, many customers may not know that turning off the tap while brushing their teeth can save 8 gallons of water per day. Or, if saving water isn’t enough, focus on saving money. Sharing how much a customer could save off their bills by conserving water or making efficient upgrades can do wonders to capturing their attention.

When customers understand the reasons to conserve water, and how it directly impacts their communities, the environment and their health, they are more likely to make a conscious effort to participate.

As a trusted source of information, there are many ways a utility can communicate facts about water conservation. For example, your utility can share an infographic explaining how water conservation goes hand-in-hand with reducing monthly bills and preserving a limited community resource, or an educational fact sheet about how saving water helps maintain water quality.

Consider communicating facts about water conservation through:

  • Newsletters
  • Short-form videos
  • Infographics
  • Educational fact sheets
  • Webinars
  • Community events
  • Social media

Compelling Reasons to Conserve Water

In addition to presenting facts about water conservation, it’s also important to communicate the benefits of conserving water so customers understand how it directly impacts them. Some of customers’ biggest motivators include:

  • Financial savings: It’s no secret that customers are motivated by money; they want to save on costs and reduce their monthly water bills. By highlighting the potential cost savings, they are more likely to engage with your utility’s conservation messaging and participate in water-saving efforts.
  • Community impact: Some customers may be driven by the desire to benefit their own community. This is especially true if their utility is a municipal or cooperative, as community engagement is already a proven priority. To reach these customers, share the impact they can make on their community by conserving water.
  • Sustainability focus: Many customers value sustainability and want to implement sustainable practices into their daily lives. Showing customers how their actions, like reducing water waste and usage, directly contribute to a healthier environment, can make them feel more empowered to reduce their water footprint.

Actionable Strategies for Conserving Water

Once your utility has helped customers understand the reasons to conserve water, it’s important to give them actionable strategies for how to do so. Again, education is key. Don’t assume that customers already know how to save water. It’s important to provide them with achievable water-saving tactics, including:

  • Being mindful of household leaks: Do your customers know that household leaks are one of the main causes for water waste? In fact, the average family wastes around 180 gallons per week, or 9,400 gallons of water annually. Connecting this fact to how much money customers are spending encourages them to pay more attention to leaks. Additionally, use this knowledge gap to provide customers with tips and tricks to detect and address leaks.
  • Installing water-efficient fixtures and appliances: Installing water-efficient products can help customers use at least 20% less water. As their trusted resource, customers look to you to guide them about the best products to purchase and upgrades to make within their homes. If your utility has a marketplace, promote your water efficiency items to customers and direct them to other rebates or incentives.
  • Reducing outdoor irrigation system usage: Nearly 30% of household water use is devoted to the outdoors, and 50% of the water used outdoors is lost due to wind, evaporation, and runoff caused by inefficient irrigation methods and systems, according to the EPA. Use this as an opportunity to educate customers on the benefits of using timers, sensors and checking for outdoor leaks often. Depending on your utility’s location, this could be a great opportunity to share additional resources pertaining to your specific climate or environment.

By educating customers about the importance and benefits of water conservation, as well as providing practical tips for water-saving practices, your utility can empower customers to take control of their water usage.

How to Promote the Benefits of Conserving Water

Although we live in a digital age, it’s important to connect with customers across all channels and mediums. The San Jose Water Company does just this by hosting in-person community events, school programs and civic presentations to educate its community about water conservation.

Its in-person events are an effective way to get the community to understand the power of preserving water resources and offer customers an opportunity to ask questions or share their challenges. Additionally, the school programs help kids start thinking about their role in helping to save water and encourage them to bring water conservation ideas and tips home to their families.

The utility even hosts “Water Appreciation Nights” at local football and baseball games, furthering the reach of their conservation messaging.

Additionally, the utility offers CATCH, a free program where customers can sign up for a water efficiency expert to visit their homes. This expert will help identify leaks and will recommend individualized water and money-saving improvements. By making water conservation accessible for its customers in many unique ways, the San Jose Water Company is able to connect with its customers and share the facts and benefits of saving water.

The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (LADWP) also actively promotes water conservation to its customers and offers a comprehensive range of resources aimed at educating them about the reasons to conserve water and methods to do so effectively.

LADWP offers a wide array of educational resources for customers, including free workshops through its outdoor landscaping academy, Los Angeles Outdoor Landscape Academy (LAOLA). LAOLA aims to educate customers on sustainable landscaping strategies such as turf removal, water-efficient irrigation and groundwater infiltration.

Additionally, the utility offers rebates and incentive programs that encourage efficient water use and sustainable landscaping for residential and business customers, including rebates for appliances and irrigation equipment. Customers can also take advantage of free water conservation equipment, like faucet aerators, showerheads and toilet leak detection dye tablets.

These water conservation efforts can go a long way. In fact, L.A.’s current per capita water is among one of the lowest in any major U.S. city.

Show Your Utility Customers the Benefits of Conserving Water

Water conservation is a collective effort, requiring effort from utilities and their customers. Utilities must be willing to work diligently to educate customers about the benefits of conserving water. In doing so, utilities will encourage and empower its customers to be active participants in preserving this important community resource. Together, utilities and customers can share the load in reducing water usage.

Communicate the facts about water conservation to your utility’s customers with an engagement solution from Questline Digital.

Smart devices have changed the way we interact with technology, and smart meters are no exception. Gone are the days when analog meters would only show how much energy was used, and monthly bills could offer little to help homeowners and businesses truly understand their power consumption. Now, smart meter data puts the power into customers’ hands by providing detailed, actionable information on their energy usage.

Chart listing the data capabilities of utility smart meters

Data capabilities of smart meters

  • Power consumption subdivided by devices and times
  • Grid health insight and power quality
  • Real-time notifications and remote control
  • Flexible utility services

Smart meters can monitor how much power customers are currently using, how many kilowatt-hours they’ve used, and even which devices are using that electricity. Basic data is shared with customers, allowing them to analyze their energy habits. Additionally, smart meter data is shared with utilities to provide insightful feedback and tailored energy savings suggestions.

But did you know that this powerful two-way connection can benefit both utilities and their customers in other ways? Real-time, accurate data can be used for much more than just monthly energy check-ins at the end of each billing cycle.

Unlocking the Potential of Smart Meter Data

As more utilities and their customers switch to advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), more data about individual energy use and the overall grid will be available. As a result, the capabilities of managing consumption will only expand.

Chart illustrating how the smart grid shares data between the utility and customers

This data also offers utilities a nonintrusive way to learn more about their customers and better tailor services to each individual. Read on to learn how to use smart meter data — including energy consumption patterns, peak demand times, load profiles and more — to strengthen your utility’s relationships with homeowners and businesses.

3 ways to enhance customer communications with smart meter data

1. Energy education and programs

Customer usage data, especially concerning specific appliances, can inform utilities on areas where more education could be useful. While many large-scale studies on energy use may take months or even years to produce usable data that can influence programs, real-time smart meter data is transmitted in minutes.

Accurate bills and reliable forecasts can help customers on a monetary level. These numbers can be used by the utility to make tailored recommendations for energy savings. But, that’s not all. For example, if a customer uses appliances inefficiently, such as leaving large electronics on all night, smart meter data can offer insight on what programs or rate plans could benefit them.

2. Customer segmentation

The more your utility learns about customers and how they use energy, the better it can segment them based on needs, preferences and behaviors. Utilities can use these learnings to tailor offers and services accordingly.

For example, customers with old, inefficient appliances could benefit from information about potential rebates available on new appliances purchased. A customer who uses most of their energy during off-peak hours could benefit from information about time-of-use rate plans.

Illustration demonstrating how utilities use smart meter data to improve customer communications about appliance use

Depending on how customers respond to initial interest emails, your utility may be able to send even more tailored communications in the future.

3. Grid resilience + reliability

Did you know that the American electric grid is more than 100 years old? Though it’s seen quite a few infrastructure updates since then, very few have had as much impact as smart technology.  

Smart meters are just a part of a larger, connected system that makes up the smart grid, which uses renewable energy systems and other advanced equipment to increase the strength and reliability of electricity.

Data received from smart meters provide insight into the current load placed on the grid, especially if the capacity is nearing its limit. High-demand periods can typically be predicted before they occur, and potential outages can be detected and even prevented thanks to the data gathered by this smart system.

By understanding your customers’ needs, your utility can provide tips and information to help them better manage their energy use, strengthening your relationship with customers.  

Challenges of Using Smart Meter Data

Though the number of smart meter installations is steadily climbing each year, that doesn’t mean that all customers immediately accept the new technology. Security concerns have been the source of fear for quite a few years, especially when it comes to fears that utilities will use that information in unwanted ways. Providing answers to customer questions is crucial to maintaining a trusting relationship.

Common concerns among customers include the accuracy and privacy of their smart meter data.

1. Accuracy

After decades of trust in analog meters, some customers have questions concerning the accuracy of smart meters when it comes to measuring energy use.

Customers can rest easy knowing all meter manufacturers are required to test for accuracy and provide those results, proving that they follow the performance standards set by the American National Standards Institute. Before a meter ever reaches a customer’s property, it has been tested multiple times to ensure it will provide on-the-mark measurements.

Plus, real-time data transmission between the meter and utility keeps everyone in the loop and can immediately cause an alert if any part of the system is malfunctioning.

2. Privacy

Data security may be the most common concern with most new technology, and smart meters are no exception.

Advanced security and encryption technology are used by utilities to protect customer data, and smart meters fall under that same level of protection. Unless a customer has other smart devices or an energy management system that can break down usage by appliance, utilities will only receive data concerning how much energy is used and at what time.

Customers can customize their smart meter experience based on their personal preferences and choose to keep detailed information private. Communication is key to ensure customers that their data will be safe with smart meters.

Illustration showing how the smart grid utilizes data from different customers

Use Smart Meter Data to Strengthen Customer Relationships

Data collection has become standard across many industries, and not all of it is used for good. Maintaining a strong, trusting relationship requires handling all data safely and securely, and walking a fine line between providing valuable suggestions and overstepping boundaries.

Learning more about your customers through smart meter data is an effective way to determine what services they could use most and to build programs that serve these needs.

Use data to build stronger customer relationships with an engagement solution from Questline Digital.

Energy utilities are making strides to improve grid resilience, increase renewable energy sources and give customers more rate plan options than ever before. As a result, utility time-of-use promotions are ramping up across the country.

According to Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC) research, only 28% of customers are aware they have rate plan options and less than 50% of customers know what kind of rate plan they have. Promoting time-of-use rates (TOU) requires a strategic approach to help customers understand the “how,” “what” and “why” of alternative rate plans. Yet, the message is often not getting through to customers.

This leads to an important question: Why aren’t your TOU promotions working? The reality is that it’s not easy to encourage customers to switch to a new rate plan. It requires a solid foundation of information and education before you can even launch the adoption campaign to get customers to convert. Here are four reasons why your utility time-of-use promotions might not be successful — and how you can improve them.

4 Reasons Your Utility Time-of-Use Promotions Might Not Be Successful

  • You aren’t equipping customers with TOU education
  • You aren’t segmenting your TOU promotions
  • You aren’t focusing on the right TOU benefits
  • You aren’t helping customers maximize savings on TOU

Reason #1: You aren’t equipping customers with TOU education

First and foremost, customers are looking for trustworthy and transparent information on alternative rate plans. Residential time-of-use rates are a brand-new concept for most customers, and they are looking for a trusted energy advisor to help them understand their options. That’s why utilities need to create a variety of TOU educational resources and make them easily accessible to customers.

“That’s the one thing we always see in our research — their utility is the first place a customer goes to find energy-related information,” says Nathan Shannon, President and CEO of SECC. “Utilities need to make their websites more intuitive and consumer-friendly so customers can easily find TOU information. Once customers know they have rate plan options, 70% said they would be interested in signing up for one of them.”

SECC recommends creating an array of TOU educational materials for customers, including videos, fact sheets, articles, infographics, email campaigns, direct mail and social media posts. Utilities are more likely to reach younger generations through videos and social media, while older customers may be more reachable through direct mail and articles.

“There is always a move toward more digital communications, whether video, infographics or social media,” Shannon says. “But the reality is customers are still opening their mail and looking at their bill inserts, even millennials. That’s why it’s essential to have a multichannel approach in utility time-of-use promotions.”

Reason #2: You aren’t segmenting your TOU promotions

To connect with customers, utility time-of-use promotions must be relevant to their needs, and interests. Instead of sending one marketing email to a mass audience, segmentation is a must in today’s world of hyper-personalization, allowing you to address the preferences of different groups of customers. Think of any streaming service, ecommerce website or mobile app — they are designed to be as personalized and relevant to the individual as possible.

Utilities need to take advantage of the customer data available to them, notably smart meter data. With this information, TOU promotions can be segmented by groups of customers, like homeowners, renters, EV owners, customers with high energy usage, and more. You can even segment based on how engaged a customer is with utility programs and services. Those with greater engagement are more likely to try new services, like TOU rate plans.

“With smart meter data, you can tell if a customer owns an electric vehicle based on if they consistently have peak demand at night while they are charging,” Shannon says. “With this knowledge, you can send information on TOU rates and EV charger rebates. Utilities must use the data they do have to customize promotions to specific groups of customers.”

For its TOU promotions, Fayetteville Public Works Commission utilized targeted messaging to reach customers who were EV owners or potential adopters. The utility took advantage of analytics to identify residential customers who showed a propensity for EV adoption. Fayetteville PWC also reached out to EV clubs and car dealerships in its service territory.

“Try to keep it as simple as possible,” explains Lamont Hinson, Community Relations Associate at Fayetteville PWC, in a Questline Digital webinar. “We try to break down those ‘journalistic W’s’ so explaining what’s happening, why it’s happening, when it’s happening, and how the customer could potentially benefit from it.”

Reason #3: You aren’t focusing on the right TOU benefits

TOU marketing messages should focus on the benefits that resonate most with customer values. SECC found that most customers care first and foremost about energy costs.

According to SECC’s survey “Alleviating Americans’ Energy Burdens,” a quarter of all Americans — and 34% of those earning under $50,000 per year — report having struggled to pay their electric bills over the past 12 months.

To encourage participation, utility time-of-use promotions should illustrate the potential savings offered by an alternative rate plan. Customers are very literal and want to know exactly how much they could save if they make the switch.

“We’ve seen throughout our consumer research that consumers highly value personalized, concrete benefits that they will receive, and tools like bill calculators with the customer’s energy usage data included can help with this,” Shannon says. “Further, utilities can help mitigate high bills through bill protection for the first six months or year.”

Saving money isn’t the only thing that matters to customers. Being in control of their energy usage is extremely important, especially with the rise of smart meters and smart home technology. With the ability to control when they use large amounts of energy, a TOU rate plan means customers are also in control of how much they can save.

“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 there are times when customers want to have that control to be comfortable in their home.”

Many consumers also want to know about the environmental benefits of participating in a new rate plan or utility program. According to Shannon, “clean energy” and “renewable energy” are terms that resonate well with most customers in utility time-of-use promotions.

“Our Simply Sustainable and Green Pioneers customer segments are highly motivated by environmental benefits and would be encouraged to enroll in a TOU plan if these are made clear,” he explains.

Reason #4: You aren’t helping customers maximize savings on TOU

Getting a customer to switch to an alternative rate plan isn’t the end of your TOU campaign — it’s just the beginning. To ensure success, utilities need to communicate with customers to make sure they understand their new rate plan and that they are making the most of it.

For example, utility time-of-use promotions should educate customers on common high energy-consuming appliances to avoid during peak demand times. A large Northeast energy utility provides a helpful infographic in TOU marketing emails highlighting home appliances that consume the most energy. This gives customers a visual reminder of what appliances to pay attention to when making energy usage choices.

You should also provide advice to help customers change their energy behaviors, like doing a load of laundry with your morning coffee or running the dishwasher before you go to bed. These simple tips can make a tremendous difference for customers who need to make small swaps in their daily routine.

Educate and Build Trust with Utility Time-of-Use Promotions

Marketing time-of-use rates can be a challenge for energy utilities, requiring ongoing communications with customers. However, improving utility time-of-use promotions is possible with the right strategy. By serving as a trusted energy advisor, utilities can help customers reduce energy usage — and save money — on TOU plans. By sharing helpful educational resources, segmented messages and detailed savings information, utilities can go a long way to encourage TOU participation.

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

Improve your utility’s time-of-use promotions with educational content and a strategic engagement campaign from Questline Digital.

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.