As sustainability becomes a greater priority for businesses, energy utilities play an important role as a trusted resource. Key Account Managers in particular are vital partners with business customers as they take on electrification and energy efficiency projects.

But how can Key Account Managers (KAMs) help business customers on their journey to greater sustainability? We spoke with those in the energy industry about best practices to support account electrification and greater energy efficiency.

“The Key Account position can play a big role in both supporting electrification and sustainability,” says Dale Odom, Supervisor of Business Development Services with ElectriCities of North Carolina. “It starts with being that single point of contact to your customers, listening to their needs and providing information when requested.”

Chart listing the ways utilities can support account electrification

Be a Trusted Partner to Key Accounts Customers

According to a recent study, 90% of business leaders think sustainability is a priority. However, only 60% have a strategy in place. For many businesses, the significant investment required for electrification and energy efficiency projects can be a challenge.

That’s why businesses are looking to their energy utility for valuable resources, education and advice. For KAMs, supporting account electrification starts with being a trusted partner to business customers.

“I focus on being a partner to our customers and meeting them where they’re at in their sustainability journey,” says Angela Koker, Regional Account Executive with Avista Utilities. “Key Account Managers should understand the goals of their business customers and then try to be that trusted resource.”

Some business customers may not have a clear picture of the path to electrify their business or make energy efficiency improvements. Equipped with deep knowledge about utility incentives and rebate programs, KAMs have a unique opportunity to help guide business customers every step of the way.

Understand Utility Customers’ Business Needs

According to Odom, the first step to support account electrification is to understand the unique needs of business customers. Questions to keep in mind include:

  • What is the customer’s industry?
  • What’s their approach to business?
  • What does their business model look like?
  • Is the business in a position to make changes?

For example, a hospital system, manufacturing facility and warehouse all have very different operations and sustainability goals. That’s why it’s essential for KAMs to have a strong understanding of each customer’s business.

“It’s going to be different from customer to customer,” Odom explains. “From an electrification standpoint, if you have good relationships as a Key Account Manager, it’s going to be easier to have those conversations. They will often be the first person to hear from their customer on sustainability goals.”

For many businesses, change can be uncomfortable. According to Rendall Farley, Manager of Electric Transportation at Avista Utilities, business customers can be hesitant to make operational changes, especially when it comes to electrifying their warehouse equipment or vehicle fleets.

“They want to know what electrifying their business will look like, the potential risks involved and how much time and effort the project will take,” Farley says. “You have to think about all of those things from a customer’s perspective — and every customer is unique.”

When supporting account electrification, KAMs should be mindful of customer concerns and the potential impacts on their business. “If you’re asking your customer to change a particular process, that’s a big ask,” Odom explains. “Instead of pushing them to make a change, it’s all about being a helpful resource and providing them with the information they need to make an informed decision.”

Schedule In-Person Visits with Customers

For a deeper understanding of how a business operates, Koker recommends visiting the facility and meeting with facility managers. This often takes place during a site visit with one of the utility’s energy efficiency engineers who will conduct an assessment of energy efficiency opportunities.

“I think you learn so much more being in a customer’s facility and seeing their operations firsthand versus a phone conversation or virtual meeting,” Koker says. “Whenever I can accompany an engineer on a site visit, I make that a priority.”

This is especially important for customers who may need more education in order to support account electrification or energy efficiency upgrades. For example, Avista is currently in the process of conducting outreach to smaller businesses in rural areas of the utility’s service territory.

“These customers are farther removed from Avista and need more education on what is possible with energy efficiency improvements and how we can help them accomplish their goals,” Koker notes.

Key Account Managers Can Provide Necessary Education

Business customers are looking for electrification and energy efficiency education from their energy utility. According to Koker, it’s important to educate businesses on utility incentives and rebate programs, as well as various state programs and legislation.

Avista partnered with a leading energy-management consulting firm to offer the virtual Clean Buildings Accelerator program, a year-long effort to help businesses navigate Washington State’s House Bill 1257. The program educates customers on how to set up their ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager, ways to prioritize energy savings and other requirements.

“Business customers get coaching calls and periodic check-ins to make sure they’re on track with everything they need to do to align with the Clean Buildings Performance Standards,” Koker says. “It’s essentially a step-by-step process to help them navigate this new legislation.”

According to Farley, supporting account electrification starts with having credible tools that provide quality estimates of the savings business customers will see over time. Educational tools, like calculators, videos or webinars, should provide clear insights on the payback they will receive on upfront investments.

For example, Avista has an incentive program that helps customers with the initial cost of making the switch to electric forklifts. Farley notes that customers are looking for credible information on lithium-ion batteries, which have advantages and disadvantages. For customers who initially electrify a portion of their fleet vehicles, they want to understand how to electrify more vehicles in a cost-effective and seamless manner.

“Many customers look to us for credible information on the technology — as well as how things might change in the future,” Farley says. “Rather than trying to push them to make the switch, we’re here to provide them with helpful facts, programs and options so they can make the best decision for them.”

Supporting Account Electrification Will Set Up Customers for Success

Key Account Managers are in the perfect position to serve as trusted partners as their customers navigate the path to greater sustainability. To support account electrification, KAMs should know the ins and outs of the customer’s business, provide credible educational resources and be available to answer any questions along the way. They have the power to set up their business customers for success with electrification and energy efficiency projects.

“At the end of the day, a trusted resource is what we want to be from a utility perspective,” Odom says. “When a business has questions about electrification or sustainability, the Key Account Manager is often the first phone call they will make. It all starts with great relationships.”

Learn how a digital engagement strategy from Questline Digital will help your utility build stronger relationships with business customers.

From the convenience of our smartphones, we can easily lower the temperature of our home, turn on the lights before entering the front door and better manage our overall energy usage.

For energy utilities, it’s imperative to harness the opportunities tied to this growing technology. Running a smart home campaign or weaving smart home promotions throughout your customer communications can help your target audience adopt these devices and better manage their energy use.

Check out the following ideas for promoting smart home devices and encouraging their use for energy efficiency.

Consider Your Customers’ Motivations for Smart Home Adoption

Some of your customers will have great familiarity with smart devices while others may be intimidated or unaware. You’ll need to promote the right benefit to catch their attention and educate them. Research from E Source shows that the most effective messages for promoting smart devices include:

  • Convenience
  • Security
  • Savings
  • Ease of use
  • Control

These customer motivations can be used to build separate smart home campaigns for different target audiences. Try segmenting customers based on interests so you can put high-impact messages in front of them.

  • Tech-savvy customers will care more about the latest upgrades and taking advantage of the smart devices’ advanced features
  • Green-conscious customers will want to learn how to reduce energy consumption with automated controls
  • Budget-conscious customers, or those on alternative rate plans, will appreciate tips on how to save money with smart devices
  • Older customers and homeowners will care about the enhanced security features smart products provide

See how this Midwest utility promoted different benefits through email marketing campaigns. With knowledge about customer motivations, messages like “preserve our planet” were sent to customers who’d shown interaction with previous environmental promotions, while the promise to “save more” was sent to low-income and budget-conscious audiences.

Example of segmented emails for utility smart home campaign

Help Customers Save with Smart Home Incentives

To encourage customers to take the next step and purchase a smart home device, consider offering rebates and incentives. Energy utilities are collaborating with smart thermostat manufacturers like Nest to provide customer incentives. These smart home campaigns and incentive programs are often tied to demand response initiatives.

For example, see how this Midwest utility promotes a $100 smart thermostat rebate alongside enrollment for its Smart Thermostat program.

Example of email promoting utility program for smart home campaign

Additionally, check out how Austin Energy promotes smart devices and rebates via its Facebook page.

Example of social post for smart home campaign

Include Local Partners in Smart Home Campaigns

Smart technology also has opportunities beyond individual sales. Energy utilities are joining forces with local partners to help increase energy efficiency in their communities through smart home technology.

Georgia Power collaborated with Atlanta-based builder PulteGroup, the City of Atlanta and the U.S. Department of Energy to create the city’s first Smart Neighborhood. The innovative homes are equipped with a variety of energy-efficient measures including smart home upgrades, rooftop solar and in-home battery storage systems.

Likewise, Alabama Power partnered with Vivint Smart Home and local builders to develop the first Smart Neighborhood in the state. Located in Birmingham, the community is 35% more energy efficient than comparable homes in the area.

Ramp Up Your Marketplace Promotions

Your smart home campaign should make it obvious to customers that they can shop for energy-saving products through your utility. Your marketplace is filled with energy-efficient gadgets at a discounted rate and offers home services, energy-saving program enrollments and accessible financing options. Make sure customers know your marketplace exists and how to find it.

            Some ideas for promoting your marketplace include:

  • Homepage banner on your website
  • Including your marketplace in the main website navigation
  • Regular email promotions
  • Employee email signatures
  • Social media posts
  • Digital advertisements
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Search engine marketing (SEM)
  • Direct mail

FirstEnergy Home sends timely email communications to customers promoting the wide range of smart products in their marketplace. The messaging often ties back to energy efficiency but also promotes benefits like security and convenience.

Share Smart Home Tips for Saving Energy

To truly encourage energy-efficient behaviors, focus on educating customers, not just selling products.

Teach customers how smart homes can be more energy efficient. Showcase articles, infographics, videos and interactive quizzes that demonstrate how smart devices can be employed to curb energy consumption.

Sharing tips and tricks through content on social media, on your website, in your marketplace or with a monthly newsletter can help your utility grow its reputation as a trusted resource.

Example of content marketing for utility smart home campaign

Pro Tip: Don’t forget to also point out where smart devices might unintentionally use more energy. Some smart home devices, like smart speakers, can increase the amount of electricity a home uses. In comparison, devices such as smart thermostats and smart power strips are effective ways to reduce electricity usage.

Harnessing the Power of Smart Home Campaigns

Energy utilities across the country are taking advantage of smart technology to improve customer satisfaction, achieve program goals and make a positive difference in the community. The smart home is only getting smarter. How is your energy utility harnessing these technologies to engage and empower customers?

Show customers how to use smart home technology in every room of the house with a campaign strategy from Questline Digital.

As energy providers look to strengthen relationships with their customers, many are launching utility marketplace websites to sell energy-related products and services.

Energy utility marketplaces are appearing in two distinct categories:

  • Project marketplaces connect customers interested in energy efficiency and home improvement solutions with certified professionals. These marketplaces include installation services for EV charging stations, solar panels and even home security and smart home hubs.
  • Product marketplaces are e-commerce-style websites where customers can purchase smart thermostats, ENERGY STAR® appliances, LED lighting, advanced power strips and other efficiency-related products directly from their energy utility.

Energy utilities face an uphill battle to break through the crowded field of marketplaces dominated by titans like Amazon and Walmart. This competition, coupled with the fact that the average e-commerce site conversion rate is between 2% and 3%, reinforces how energy utilities are fighting for a slim share of a very crowded market.

How can energy utilities break through the noise?

A Trusted Marketplace For Energy Products

Though challenging, energy utilities actually have a few competitive advantages over established e-commerce players.

If you search on Amazon for LED lightbulbs, you’ll find more than 10,000 results. However, there are few recognizable brands to choose from and it’s hard to compare the many features and prices.

Your customers are busy and don’t have the time or patience to wade through the overwhelming number of options.

In comparison, your utility marketplace offers fewer products that have been vetted by your energy utility, ensuring authenticity and reliability.

Customers want a simple recommendation they can trust, and your energy utility can provide that.

What’s Missing From Today’s Energy Utility Online Shops?

Currently, most utility online shops aren’t built to match the e-commerce shopping experience customers have come to expect. Shoppers are used to having an easy-to-use search tool, personalized recommendations, product reviews, linked tutorials, and more. Without these features, online shoppers are apt to jump over to more user-friendly sites.

Most utility marketplaces also lack search engine optimization (SEO). Product listings are not discoverable to consumers and remain reliant on marketing promotions. Yet, promotions have historically been limited to occasional bill inserts and mass messages to all customers.

In order to be successful in today’s crowded smart tech market, energy utilities will need to embrace the advanced marketing tactics used by e-commerce brands.

“Energy marketplaces are really an e-commerce business, and they need to be treated as such,” explains Mark Wilkinson, SVP Products at ibex Digital. “Utilities should really embrace the e-commerce philosophy. It comes down to personalized, timely and relevant marketing. Something that direct-to-consumer brands do very well.”

Driving repeat and regular traffic to utility online shops is now essential. 

How to Market Your Energy Utility Marketplace

In order to fully realize the potential of marketplaces, energy utilities should implement a multifaceted marketing strategy to drive awareness, traffic and conversions.

Here are a few impactful ways to better market your utility marketplace:

Content marketing:  Before making a purchase, customers need to learn about the energy efficient or smart home products in your marketplace. Why do they need them? How do they use them? What are the benefits?

Content is great for boosting awareness and developing interest. Use blog posts, videos, social media and infographics to educate customers on utility marketplace products and how they fit in their daily lives. Share content across eNewsletters, social media and on your marketplace itself.

Incorporate links to related products and calls-to-action within your content to create an organic buying experience. For example, include a CTA to your marketplace in an article about smart home technology or an infographic featuring energy-savings tips. Content marketing leads your customers to the next step naturally.

Be relevant and timely: Purchases are also tied to triggers and events, making relevancy and timeliness key for e-commerce marketing. Get in front of customers when they are making buying decisions.

Capitalize on seasonal changes and holidays; put rebates and product promotions in front of customers when they are most likely to make a purchase.

Behavioral emails: Use scheduled email cadences to encourage action and build a positive customer experience. Build timelines that match customer behaviors.

Let’s say someone bought a new smart thermostat. Send them an instructional email after their shipment is delivered with tips on how to install. Then send an email three or four days later that helps them learn how to take the next steps with program enrollment. If they don’t enroll or open that email, have a reminder sent a few days later. Then in a month, follow up with suggested products that complement their previous purchase.

“We always recommend tackling behavioral promotions in small chunks,” explains Wilkinson. “Offer recommendations and cross-promotions (people who bought this also liked…) and follow-up emails related to customer’s purchases to really help the experience. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated and can lead to immediate results.”

Abandoned cart emails: Emailing customers who have abandoned shopping carts is a successful strategy for driving incremental conversions. By sending an automated message, you can offer additional incentives such as a coupon to complete the sale at a lower cost. These easy-to-implement emails achieve success rates between 27% and 30%.

Audience segmentation: Energy utility customers encompass a vast set of demographics. Understanding the wants and needs of different groups is monumental for utility marketplace promotions.

Let’s say you identify a segment of empty nesters who also have pets. This audience is primed for streaming cameras or security systems that allow owners to check in on their animals.

“Segmentation can really benefit topic and tone for utility marketplace promotions,” explains Wilkinson. “Customers get interested in the same product in very different ways, so understanding the customer personas really helps develop traffic and ultimately sales on a utility marketplace.”

Tie in program promotions: The biggest win for utilities may be tying marketplace sales to program enrollments. For example, when customers are checking out for their smart thermostat, utilities can incorporate prompts to sign up for time-of-use (TOU) rate programs.

Program prompts can be built into the marketplace itself, or they can function more like a follow-up email. Today, consumers expect an effortless shopping experience. Take the extra step to make the connections between products and programs.

Examples of Great Utility Marketplace Promotions

The energy utilities finding success with energy marketplaces are those who actively promote and follow e-commerce standards. Check out these examples:

First Energy Home

Experimentation with social media, display ads, content, email promotions and search engine marketing (SEM) has allowed First Energy to build brand recognition for their utility marketplace.

Examples of digital marketing for First Energy Home utility marketplace

Holiday Promotions

In an effort to be timely and relevant, this Questline Digital client has seen success with promoting its marketplace and product rebates around holidays.

Examples of email marketing promotions for energy utility marketplace

Examples of Great e-Commerce Content

Still not sure how to promote your utility’s marketplace? Pull inspiration from brands that have mastered e-commerce. 

Williams Sonoma is great at using content to sell. Their emails often include how-to cooking videos with links to products used during tutorials. Plus, emails are sent to customers based on previous shopping and site visitation behaviors.

Were you looking at their bread mixes? Then you might receive an email in a few days that highlights their baking and pastry tools, bakeware and easy-to-prepare croissants. It will likely be paired with a supplementary video that provides a few baking tips or links to fan-favorite bread recipes – all the things you might need next after your initial purchase.

Williams Sonoma understands their customers and their buyer journey. The retailer knows that basic purchases tend to lead toward future specialty products.

Similarly, smart thermostats are often the first smart tech product purchased. After an initial trial period, customers who found value in the product tend to expand their smart tech collection.

Take inspiration from brands like Williams Sonoma and build content strategies that ensure your utility is present when customers are ready for the next step. Offer help and guidance.

Be the Trusted Expert for Energy Products

While it can seem like an uphill battle to compete with colossal retailers, energy utilities should use their industry expertise to their advantage.

Your customers trust your energy utility and the products you recommend — and that’s a great place to start when promoting your marketplace.

Complement your competitive advantage with helpful content and timely promotions, and your energy utility will see results.

Learn how to boost engagement and grow sales with an Energy Marketplace Content strategy from Questline Digital.

Ensuring the reliability of your customers’ energy supply is one of the most important jobs for any utility — yet it’s often taken for granted by customers. By participating in commercial demand response programs, business customers will better understand the role they have to play and directly contribute to making the electric grid more stable.

How do energy utilities encourage business customers to participate in demand response? By sharing the benefits of these programs, addressing common objections and offering energy-saving education, utilities can enlist the participation of more businesses and ensure the success of demand response programs.

What Is Demand Response?

Demand response is an effort to manage the capacity of the electric grid during peak events, or times of extremely high power draw. If businesses and households demand more electricity than can be produced — say, during a hot August afternoon when the air conditioning is running full blast — it may lead to outages. Producing more electricity by constructing new power plants can be costly and take years of planning. Plus, it often it means adding more fossil fuel generation to the grid instead of renewable sources.

Demand response programs seek to minimize the impact of peak events and prevent the need for building more power plants. Commercial demand response programs pay business customers to reduce their power draw during peak events, ensuring the stability of the grid for other customers and ultimately reducing the cost of energy for everyone.

How Does Demand Response Impact Commercial and Industrial Customers?

Customers can look at demand response events in two ways: the (potentially temporary) inconvenience of participating and the (potentially detrimental) drawbacks of not participating.

Commercial and industrial customers who participate in demand response programs may be asked to reduce their power draw during peak events. This can lead to minor inconveniences like reducing HVAC use or major impacts like closing the business for part of the day. On the positive side, program participants receive financial incentives that may include cash payments or reduced rates — even if a response event is not needed. The amount of advanced notice varies by program.

Businesses that don’t participate would not receive these incentives, of course, but they still might suffer the negative effects. An unexpected outage during peak events could cause devastating business interruptions. Long term, without effective demand response programs, a utility might have to add more carbon-based generation to the grid and rely less on renewable sources — increasing the cost of energy for everyone.

How to Promote Demand Response Program Benefits

The importance of demand response programs to your utility is clear: Managing the load during peak events is critical to ensure the reliability and stability of the grid. But why are these programs important to businesses? When promoting demand response, the key is to focus on the benefits to your customers, not the benefits to your utility.

Commercial demand response programs benefit your customers in three significant ways:

  1. Financial incentives. Businesses get paid to participate in demand response programs and can benefit from upfront payments, rebates and/or lower energy rates.
  2. Operational planning. Program participants can prepare for demand response events and ensure smooth transitions. It’s much better than being caught off guard by unexpected outages.
  3. Green reputation. Businesses are partners with the utility in ensuring a cleaner and more stable energy supply for their community — which both employees and consumers appreciate.

Overcoming Common Hurdles to Demand Response Program Adoption

Despite these benefits, commercial and industrial customers may be wary of demand response programs. After all, reducing power draw could be a significant interruption to business operations. It’s important for energy utility marketers to acknowledge these objections and clearly address customers’ concerns.

Make it easy to participate. The thought of interrupting business operations or reducing power draw at a busy commercial facility may be overwhelming. Help customers participate, and demonstrate how easy it is, with clear guidelines and processes for demand response events.

Share testimonials. Who knows the benefits of demand response programs better than current participants? Look for success stories among your customers and capture video testimonials to share with businesses that are considering the program. Spoken in their own words, such videos are authentic and relatable to other business customers.

Segment messages by new/returning customers. If you require past participants to sign up for your demand response program each year, it’s important to remind them of the benefits even though they may already understand the program. New prospects, on the other hand, will require a more detailed explanation and may need repeated outreach.

Segment messages by industry. Reducing power draw during a demand response event will affect a healthcare facility much differently than, say, a factory or warehouse. It’s important to address each industry’s specific concerns with a segmented communication strategy and offer relevant participation advice for each type of facility.

Examples of Effective Commercial Demand Response Promotions

Commercial demand response programs may seem complex or intimidating to potential participants. It’s not enough to simply market the benefits of these programs with a typical campaign. Demand response promotions need to include a healthy dose of education to fully explain how the program works, the benefits of participation, and advice about compliance, including industry-specific efficiency information.

Questline Digital produced a comprehensive campaign for a major IOU in the Midwest to promote its demand response program. The campaign was a success, exceeding the utility’s participation goals and reaching customers in multiple channels with a variety of content formats:

  • Website landing page with full program details and benefits
  • Video testimonials from current participants
  • Infographic with energy-saving advice
  • Email campaigns to past participants and prospective new participants, including behavioral follow-up messages to both audiences
Example of email promotion for commercial demand response program
Example of email promotion for commercial demand response program

Business customers have an important role to play in maintaining the reliability of the electric grid. In addition to financial benefits, demand response participants can be proud of partnering with their utility to ensure a cleaner and more stable energy supply for the entire community.

Learn how to promote the benefits of your demand response program with a digital engagement strategy from Questline Digital.

Just as AMI replaced analog electric meters, the old-fashioned flat-rate bill will soon give way to a more dynamic and variable way for residential customers to pay for their energy use. An increasing number of energy utilities are introducing time-of-use (TOU) rates.

But are customers ready for the change? Those of us in the utility industry have been thinking about AMI and TOU for so long now it’s easy to forget that this idea will be brand new (and probably quite unexpected) for most customers.

In fact, TOU options represent a major paradigm shift for consumers, not just in how they pay their bills but in how they think about their energy use.

To ensure the successful rollout of these rate programs, energy utilities will need to educate customers, explaining how time-of-use electricity rates work and demonstrating how customers can benefit from taking control of their energy use.

What Are Time-of-Use Rates?

Time-of-use rates (TOU rates) refer to energy metering plans that charge a utility customer based on when they use energy. Rates can vary according to the time of day, season and day (weekday, weekend or holiday). Energy utility companies charge more when electricity demand is higher to encourage customers to spread out energy consumption to off-peak times and promote a more efficient and sustainable electric grid.

Educating Residential Customers on TOU Rates

Getting customers on board with TOU rates may sound daunting, but it doesn’t have to be.

To encourage customer enrollment, the first step is awareness, then education and finally action. You can’t expect program enrollment without the first two steps.

Infographic showing how to promote enrollment in time-of-use rates for residential customers

A study from the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC) found that fewer than 40% of customers are aware that any kind of alternative rate plan even exists and many people don’t fully understand how their electric bills work. Utility marketers have their work cut out for them.

Indeed, the SECC study found that nearly half of residential consumers do not know what type of electricity rate plan they currently have. Of those who are aware, nearly all of them said they have a flat-rate plan with static kWh pricing.

But there’s hope. The right content can help educate residential customers about TOU rates.

In fact, 70% of consumers say they prefer to learn about a product or service through content rather than an advertisement. So, promotional emails, ad buys and bill inserts won’t always do the trick, but content can.

Include educational articles, videos, calculators and infographics in emails, eNewsletters, social media and on your energy utility’s website. Provide an FAQ page and resources that help customers answer the question, “When is the best time to use electricity to save money?”

The same SECC survey showed that most customers are open to trying time-of-use rates, especially if they offered the potential to save money. These customers just need some help understanding their options. Use education to lead customers toward TOU rate programs.

Benefits & Messaging for Time-of-Use Rates

Your customers are now aware of TOU billing, and you’ve educated them on your different rate programs. How do you bring them toward action?

To reach customers more effectively, it is important for energy utilities to understand the unique needs of customers and communicate how new rate structures can benefit them specifically.

The advantages of TOU billing are obvious for energy providers: By charging higher rates when energy is more expensive, utilities can either recover the cost of peak generation or prompt customers to shift their use to off-peak hours. With fewer peaks to manage, renewable energy sources can be utilized more consistently, making the grid cleaner and more stable.

That all sounds great for utilities. However, a reliable energy supply isn’t really seen as a benefit by customers. It’s an expectation.

When a customer flips a switch, they expect the lights to go on; at the end of the month, they pay a bill. They don’t spend a lot of time thinking about all the steps in between or even how much it costs. Electricity just happens.

So, how do you get them to care? Researchers have found a few main factors are driving customer enrollment in TOU rate programs:

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

When it comes to savings, the incentive must be big enough. Mark Nabong, a senior attorney and transportation specialist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, explains, “Generally, the savings a customer gets from charging off-peak must be two to three times what they might save if they charged during peak hours.”

Customers are also more likely to enroll when they don’t have to pay extra fees for metering or green power premiums. Added fees erase the feeling of savings, even if the final cost is still lower.

Maybe your customers aren’t responding to your messages about supporting a clean and stable energy supply or the potential for savings. Instead, they may be intrigued with the idea of taking control of their energy use.

For the first time, residential customers will have the power to decide how much they pay for energy with TOU rates.

In the past, customers could save energy through behavioral changes or home improvements that reduced their overall consumption, but they paid the same for energy no matter when they used it. There was no benefit for, say, running the dishwasher overnight instead of during the day.

With TOU billing, customers can save money by simply shifting the same energy use to a different time of day — or benefit even more when their efficiency efforts reduce energy use during peak hours. Customers can control when and how they save, making a real impact on their bills.

Effective Program Promotions for TOU Rates

Alright, you’ve boosted awareness, educated customers and refined your message to talk about benefits. How do you handle program promotions?

Segment your TOU communications.

You could try to reach everyone at once, but we’ve found segmentation to be much more effective. Luckily, you can leverage research that shows who is more likely to enroll in TOU rate programs. Focus your attention on those groups instead of exhausting unlikely customers with mass marketing messages.

  1. Electric vehicle owners tend to be more willing to try alternative rate structures like TOU billing. Get in front of customers when they’re purchasing an EV or charger and are most engaged. Another idea is targeting customers who are known EV drivers with personalized messaging around TOU rates.
  2. Those who indicate they care about savings potential over absolute comfort are also more likely to enroll. When onboarding new customers, ask them to rate what’s more important. Those who are interested in savings will be more interested in the benefits of TOU. If you don’t have this level of data, look at demographics to determine lower-income groups who are likely to respond to savings opportunities.
  3. Customers who have taken zero action on their rate plan and remain enrolled in default programming are primed for TOU communications. They are likely unaware of the options that exist and need to be educated on what’s available. Send them a personalized message and boost awareness.
  4. Smart thermostat users and utility marketplace customers are also hot targets. SECC’s research found that nearly half (44%) of residential respondents indicated that they would be willing to participate in a time-based pricing program if automation technologies were deployed in their home to shift electricity use to off-peak times. Smart home technology can do just that. Customers can set their thermostats to save during peak hours and never think about it again. When a customer buys a smart home product from your utility marketplace, consider talking to them about TOU rates and how their new purchase plays a role.
  5. Customers already enrolled in energy efficiency (EE) programs are also more likely to be interested in TOU rates. They have shown actionable interest in reducing their bill and energy footprint. Targeting these individuals with a savings message is likely to increase conversions.

Try a TOU opt-out campaign.

More utilities are choosing to automatically enroll customers in TOU rate programs with the option to opt-out. Pilot programs have shown increased customer satisfaction scores, mostly due to savings. But keep in mind, opt-out campaigns require an extra level of communication and education.

Multi-channel marketing for TOU rates.

You can’t rely on just one marketing tool to reach program enrollment goals. You must reach customers where they are. During a webinar with SECC about TOU programs, Karen McCord, Marketing Specialist at SMUD, shared her TOU promotions and said her team found success with educating residential customers through:

  • Media relations
  • Digital and search display ads
  • Print ads
  • Billboard and bus ads
  • Social media
  • Mobile alerts
  • eNewsletters
  • Bill inserts
  • T.V. and radio
  • Door hangers
  • Web content
    • Videos with TOU tips
    • TOU cost estimator tool
    • Program landing page
    • Interactive energy-efficient home
Examples of content to educate customers about time-of-use rates

Show don’t just tell.

Shadow billing is a strategy that can help energy utilities show customers exactly how time-of-use rates would affect​ their monthly bill. With usage data from smart meters, utilities can look at a customer’s electricity use patterns and determine how they would fare on an alternative rate. Utilities can then show this information to customers on their monthly bill to encourage them to make the switch.

Education Will Boost Time-of-Use Rate Adoption

Time-of-use billing will revolutionize the way utilities distribute energy — and the way customers pay for it. By boosting awareness and educating customers on how TOU benefits match their unique motivations, energy utility marketers can boost the adoption and acceptance of new rate options.

Rachel Gold, Senior Manager of the utilities program at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, says it best: “Pairing automated technology with customer education on the value of off-peak electricity use will help customers understand why this is important while also allowing them to save money more easily.”

Educate your customers about time-of-use rate options with a digital engagement strategy from Questline Digital.