Water is an essential part of everyone’s lives. However, many customers don’t think about their water utility until they receive a bill or experience a service disruption. It’s up to your utility to connect with customers beyond these potentially negative touchpoints to build lasting and positive relationships.

Questline Digital’s recent webinar “Water Utilities: Building Stronger Customer Relationships” provided valuable insights from our panel of industry experts. Ty’Esha Torres, Lead Utility Services Specialist, and Jason Stinnett, Lead Account Advisor, from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), shared tactics and strategies proven to be successful in building engagement with water utility customers.

LADWP is the nation’s largest municipal utility, serving about 4 million residents and businesses in Los Angeles. The utility’s goals include providing safe and reliable service to customers and sharing their expertise with them about water quality, safety, conservation, reliability, billing and more.

To kick off the panel discussion, Torres and Stinnett shared their insights about what water customers really want from their utility.

What Water Customers Want: More Than Just Water

Beyond safe and reliable water, customers are looking to their utilities for effective communications and education. The average residential or commercial customer may not know a lot about their utility’s services or available programs, so it’s important to do the legwork in educating customers and ensuring they are aware of their options.

“There’s no way that we can achieve our goals as a utility in serving our customers and meeting all the various guidelines that we’re subject to without partnering very closely with our customers,” says Stinnett. “So, that ongoing education component is critical.”

One effective way that LADWP provides education to its customers is by hosting events. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Sustainability Awards is an annual event to honor the utility’s largest customers and their sustainability successes. This directly contributes to customer awareness of programs and encourages other businesses to consider their sustainable practices.

Event where a water utility builds stronger customer relationships

It’s also important to listen to customers and understand their motivations when it comes to water usage and conservation. Most customers are primarily concerned with reducing costs, so equipping them with tips and resources can lead to greater customer satisfaction.

Torres shared that business customers also want to know what others in their industry are doing with their water. LADWP offers its Small Business Support website and Empowering Small Business newsletters where customers can find industry-specific tips and resources. Torres emphasized the importance of providing programs and services that align with the specific needs of each industry, allowing customers to easily digest information and learn at their own pace.

Example of a website for building strong relationships with water utility customers

Stinnett also discussed the importance of equipping customers with the right tools. This includes directing them to educational resources and making sure that information is accessible. For example, LADWP recently redesigned its website to make it easier for both residential and business customers to find what they need. At the end of the day, it’s about building relationships with customers so they know that they can turn to your utility for guidance and support.

“It’s relationships,” says Stinnett. “Having that personal touch…respecting those relationships, building those relationships and investing in them. Those are the things that really can yield success.”

Encourage Feedback from Water Utility Customers

Feedback is a crucial component for the success of all utilities. Feedback allows utilities to better understand customers’ interests, needs and preferences, and prioritize actions to accommodate customers. “I use feedback to chart out my plans for the coming year,” says Stinnett. “Get that feedback. It can really be critical to your success.”

Torres also emphasized the importance of collecting feedback through various channels. “Stay ear-to-the-ground on what’s going on in your community, but also give your customers a myriad of ways to reach you,” says Torres.

Effective methods for gathering feedback include:

  • Surveys
  • Contact forms
  • Email and call center communications
  • Community events and meetings
  • Collaboration with other city agencies
  • Internal colleague feedback loops

Educate Water Customers with Consistent Touchpoints

Stinnett shared that LADWP offers various programs for water customers, which are marketed both internally and externally through newsletters. The utility’s internal newsletter, The Wire, serves as a training tool to keep employees up-to-date on important information.

LADWP’s external newsletter, Connections, is sent to customers each month through Questline Digital’s Engage platform. The monthly newsletters include content that is for both electric and water customers, offering tips or advice on water conservation best practices, or sharing information about available programs and services. Along with its newsletters, LADWP deploys email communications and posts on social media to further engagement.

Example of a newsletter to build strong relationships with water utility customers

Building Stronger Water Customer Relationships: A Dual Effort

To bridge the gap between utilities and their water customers, it’s important to remember that your relationship is also a partnership. In order to boost customer satisfaction and engagement, your utility needs to offer programs and services that customers want and need. To provide these necessary resources, your utility has to listen to customers and take feedback to heart.

Customer relationships don’t happen in a silo. It requires consistent effort to be in the community and working with customers in ways that positively impact both customers and the utility.

“Build those relationships. Find the right strategies and tactics. Find the right tools. Find out your customers’ preferences,” says Stinnet. “Find ways to really work with them, to help solve their issues and address their challenges. That’s the best thing we can do. I don’t see our customers just as customers, they’re our partners. Because without them, we wouldn’t be here.”

Torres advises utilities to be open-minded about how to do business. A customer’s experience is tied to how well your utility can capture what they need and what they’re looking for. Because of this, it’s important to think outside the box and continue growing and expanding.

“Keep an open mind, keep your toolbox growing,” says Torres. “You have to continue learning, continue teaching, continue growing. And I think, as partners, we can grow together.”

Learn how Questline Digital can help your water utility build stronger customer relationships with proven engagement solutions.

As utility customers face unprecedented financial challenges, they need more from their utility providers than just energy or water. They need understanding, empathy and practical assistance.

Questline Digital’s recent webinar, “Supporting Utility Customers Through Financial Hardship,” provided valuable insight from Joe Pifher, Creative Director at Questline Digital, and Jill Vohr, Director of ENERGY STAR Product Marketing and Communications at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They shared advice on helping low- and middle-income customers, including tools and resources that utilities can leverage.

Utility Customers Need Financial Support

Pifher kicked off the webinar by sharing the current state of the national financial crisis. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 37.9 million people are living in poverty. Additionally, the costs of everyday necessities, such as electricity, continue to increase daily. Research shows that consumers paid 14.3% more for electricity in 2022 than in 2021.

As electricity prices continue to increase, it’s critical that utilities focus on assisting customers to ease the burdens they face.

Ways to Support Customers During Challenging Times

First and foremost, utilities must observe how customers’ budgets and behaviors shift. Pifher advises utilities to listen to their customers and watch their behaviors. This is an opportunity to learn about what customers need.

“They have needs that they may not be telling you about specifically, but their behaviors are going to speak for them,” Pifher says. “Support them and give them programs that are going to give them what they need.”

These programs include payment assistance, financial aid programs, high bill/budget billing solutions and product rebates and discounts. “Help market these things to customers because they really want them and need them,” Pifher says.

Make Sure Customers Know that Financial Support is Available

Utilities can have all the necessary resources, but without an effective and engaging communication strategy, customers might still be unaware of available assistance. By developing marketing campaigns that can help customers understand their options, and connecting them to available tools and resources, your utility becomes a trusted resource.

Pifher highlighted proactive engagement strategies that prioritize customers’ needs, emphasizing sending content on a consistent basis to foster trust and provide value. “You’re reaching out to those customers in between transactional communications. You’re not just asking them for money, you’re giving them support, educating them and entertaining them,” he says.

Pifher shared a few ways to send valuable content and boost customer engagement:

  • Emails
  • Newsletters
  • Welcome Series
  • Short-form videos

For utilities, building awareness is key to connecting customers to resources. By sending content on a consistent basis, customers become educated about programs and services, driving interest and participation. Over time, this boosts long-term customer satisfaction.

Additionally, Pifher advises personalizing communications to each recipient and removing barriers to assistance.

“Personalize the communications you send to that person. Don’t send them everything, send only what is needed, send them what they want to see,” Pifher says. “If the barriers are too high, they’re not going to click through and they’re not going to convert.”

Examples of Utility Assistance Campaigns

To emphasize the importance of customer support programs, Pifher shared real-world case studies of successful utility assistance campaigns.

For example, PSE&G wanted to provide financial assistance to its customers with past-due balances. The utility partnered with Questline Digital to create an email campaign explaining the benefits of payment arrangements. The email included a personalized one-click landing page with payment term options. As a result, nearly 12,000 of the 73,000 recipients enrolled in just a few days.

Another example highlighted FirstEnergy and its approach to reaching customers through personalized videos. Questline Digital worked with the utility to send unique videos to each customer with calls-to-action directing them to beneficial programs. Each video recommended products that were relevant to each recipient, minimizing the barriers to adoption.

Assistance Tools and Resources Available from ENERGY STAR

Vohr joined in on the discussion, sharing a multitude of tools and resources that can help utilities leverage the Inflation Reduction Act.

She shared helpful insights from ENERGY STAR research regarding customers’ relationships to their utilities. One interesting finding was customers’ perspective on program rebates. Research also found that customers mistrusted their utilities when they promoted energy savings.

Additionally, Vohr shared that education is critical to helping customers understand rebates and incentives, as well as how these programs can help them.

“Think about your audience when you’re designing your programs,” Vohr says. “It’s not just in terms of how you market them or how you message them, but actually how you’re designing the program itself. That is the biggest takeaway: Address their challenges and motivators.”

Vohr summarized her insights, explaining:

  1. Design your income-qualified programs to address the challenges and motivations for this audience relative to home upgrades. Offer instant rebates and leverage IRA incentives.
  2. Focus your utility’s messaging on planning vs. proactive replacement and motivate customers with energy and money savings. Don’t forget about other drivers for this audience, including family, health and environment.
  3. Take advantage of free guidance, resources and marketing materials from ENERGY STAR.
  4. Leverage the credibility of and trust in ENERGY STAR for consumer engagement.

How to Support Your Utility Customers Through Financial Hardship

There are many tools and resources available for utilities to reach low- and medium-income customers. With an effective and engaging strategy, your utility can connect customers to the support and assistance that they need.

Learn more about how Questline Digital’s customer assistance campaigns can proactively reach low-income customers with important program information.

Connecting with utility customers is no longer just about sending monthly bills. Customers expect to receive relevant messages and personalized recommendations from companies they interact with, including their utility. That means sharing information that will resonate with them, whether that’s to help them save money or make their homes more comfortable.

Questline Digital’s recent webinar, “The Power of Personalized Videos,” shared expert insights from Jared Brandon, Director of Innovation for Harris Computer, about what personalized videos are and why they matter. Melissa Martin, Utility Operations Manager at Fort Pierce Utilities Authority (FPUA), and William Gray, Billing Supervisor at FPUA, shared a first-hand case study of their experience implementing personalized videos in their customer engagement strategy.

What are Personalized Videos?

Personalized videos are an innovative form of digital engagement that can reach across every touchpoint of the customer journey — including new customer onboarding, monthly revenue collection, targeted program promotions and more.

“Each message and call-to-action is automatically tailored to each viewer, based on their preferences, behaviors or past interactions,” Brandon said. “They communicate what’s important, to whom and when.”

Brandon also explained that personalized videos are inclusive, supporting multilingual narration, closed captions and text transcripts — anything that helps make the video accessible to consumers. They are also dynamic, reflecting the demographics of the audience and tailoring to a customers’ unique wants, interests and needs.

Why Do Personalized Videos Matter for Utilities?

Brandon continued by discussing the value and benefits of personalized videos. He explained, “Two thirds of people learn best with visual aids. If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine how much more effective a video is at communicating a message.”

Content that is personalized to a consumer is more likely to resonate with them. In fact, 71% of consumers expect companies to deliver personalized interactions, and 76% get frustrated when this doesn’t happen.

“Because every customer is unique, generic approaches to customer engagement can lead to messages being ignored, ending up in junk mail or causing customers to tune out or unsubscribe,” Brandon said.

Videos can cut through the clutter in a consumers’ inbox, helping your utility’s messages stand out.

Fort Pierce Utilities Authority Finds Success with Personalized Videos

Martin and Gray shared valuable insights from their first-hand experience with personalized videos. They shared what worked for them at FPUA, what they learned and helpful tips and advice.

Before implementing personalized videos, FPUA lacked an efficient outreach strategy and struggled to engage its customers. Martin and Gray explained that FPUA had goals of increasing paperless billing, IVR, online payments and autopay, but didn’t have a clear path on how to get there. The utility tried multiple initiatives to engage customers, but struggled to find success, prompting them to reassess their approach.

FPUA’s CIS partner, Harris Computer, introduced personalized videos as a customer engagement tool. FPUA’s team saw this innovative tactic as an opportunity to enhance communication and began implementation immediately.

Results for FPUA’s personalized videos

After an intensive process of testing to ensure a successful launch, FPUA launched its personalized videos in September 2023. Since going live, the utility has seen overwhelmingly positive results. “Right from the start, we witnessed a significant uptick in portal registrations, paperless signups and autopay, and it was precisely the goals that we aimed for from a key performance indicator (KPI) standpoint,” said Martin.

Customers were not only clicking on the videos but staying engaged throughout the message. Martin shared that the videos have consistently performed well with a watch-through rate of 70%.

Each video also provided additional information for customers through call-to-action (CTA) buttons. Martin said, “The call-to-action links at the end of the video are especially vital. They provide customers with seamless opportunities to sign up for these fantastic programs right at their fingertips and their convenience.”

The personalized videos directly boosted customer satisfaction. FPUA found that customers were genuinely excited about their personalized videos and shared their positive experiences. “The biggest surprise for us was the enthusiasm and warm reception to the billing videos from our customers,” said Martin. “They commended us for introducing such an innovative and personal approach.”

Personalized videos helped FPUA find success utility-wide. “We’ve been able to reach levels of satisfaction that we’d been missing for years,” said Martin.

Key Steps to Implementing Personalized Videos

Implementing personalized videos requires a well-thought-out strategy and it can often be difficult for utilities to know where to start. Through their learned experiences at FPUA, Grey shared guidance on the key steps to implementing personalized videos for utilities:

  1. Define your utility’s goals and objectives
  2. Ensure the data you have is complete and accurate
  3. Identify your target audience
  4. Gather the appropriate data
  5. Select your video templates and topics
  6. Write and edit the video scripts
  7. Test the videos thoroughly
  8. Deploy the videos to customers
  9. Measure and learn from the results

Before implementing personalized videos at your utility, consider these takeaways from our expert speakers.

Complement your existing offerings: Personalized videos are a highly effective way to enhance your utility’s existing outreach efforts. Brandon suggested that if your utility sends out a welcome series or bill notifications, send those messages through personalized videos to further engage and resonate with customers. “Use videos as a way to complement what you’re already doing and piggyback on those channels you’re already using,” he said.

Understand your customer: Your utility’s personalized videos should convey need-to-know information and answer your customers’ questions. Martin shared that FPUA made personalized videos with their customers in mind. As a result, the utility saw a reduction in the number of calls and emails asking for answers to commonly asked questions because customers were getting the information they needed from their videos.

Determine key performance indicators: Establishing relevant KPIs allows for the measurement of how effective your utility’s personalized videos are. It will clarify what success looks like, and allow your utility to optimize for improved performance as your personalized video program grows over time.

Personalized videos can provide highly relevant and personal content that speaks to each customer’s interests and needs. Unlike generic mass communications, personalized videos take a targeted approach, delivering highly relevant messages that capture customers’ attention.

“We are so excited to continue utilizing personalized videos,” Martin said. “It will improve our disconnection rates and satisfy customers.”

Learn how Questline Digital can help your utility build strong digital relationships through personalized videos.

We know from recent J.D. Power studies that as energy rates have increased, business customer satisfaction has taken a hit. But rising rates don’t have to equate to low customer satisfaction.

“In fact, the handful of electric utilities that are getting the business customer engagement formula right are able to maintain or even drive higher levels of satisfaction and affordability perceptions,” says Adrian Chung, Director of Utilities Intelligence at J.D. Power.

From sharing transparent communications to educating customers about programs and energy-saving technologies, there are many ways utilities can increase business customer satisfaction.

Our recent webinar, “Proven Ways Utilities are Improving Business Customer Satisfaction,” provided takeaways and insights into achieving increased CSAT from Derek Rahn with Louisville Gas & Electric and Kentucky Utilities (LG&E and KU), Ammanuel Moore with Baltimore Gas and Electric (BG&E) and Sarah Sharp, Business Development Consultant with Questline Digital (previously with Entergy.)

“Go Beyond” with LG&E and KU

LG&E and KU serves over 1.3 million customers, with 35% of its total customer base being business customers. Additionally, 60% of the utility’s revenue comes from business customers. This means that the utility puts an extensive focus on ensuring it communicates consistently and proactively with this group of customers.

Rahn shared that LG&E and KU aspire to be the best utilities in the United States and the initiatives they run are all in support of this goal. In addition to providing safe, affordable, reliable and sustainable energy, LG&E and KU strives to be a utility that customers can turn to and rely on.

“To meet these needs of our customers, as well as the company as a whole, we try to push for customer satisfaction and customer experience at the forefront — going beyond and enhancing every interaction we have with customers and the communities that we work with,” says Rahn.

LG&E and KU rank higher than other similarly sized utilities within their regions for the clarity, functionality and navigation of its website and mobile app. Additionally, Rahn says they use a multitude of tools to reach and connect with customers outside of the website, including:

  • Vehicle wraps
  • Web postings
  • Sponsored facility signage
  • Face-to-face interactions

“It’s not just while we’re on the clock, doing these particular actions, it’s even in the off-clock type scenarios where we’re making phone calls with customers or just having sidebar conversations as to how their day-to-day activities are going and what is working for them and what is not,” says Rahn. “Our goal is to go beyond and enhance every interaction we have with those customers and the communities that we’re servicing on a day-by-day basis.”

LG&E and KU also focus on interacting with customers face-to-face to continue relationship-building and extend communications past video screens or phone calls.

“It’s the face-to-face time to answer not just their day-to-day questions, such as billing related concerns or power usage concerns, but also questions along the lines of, how can we better provide you service or better your own operations at your particular plant or facility,” says Rahn. “It’s those types of relationships that have helped us build on and go into the future.”

Shifting Mindsets with BG&E

BG&E is one of six utilities spearheaded by Exelon, which is the largest utility company in the United States and services 10.6 million electric and gas customers. BG&E specifically services 1.3 million customers, with 10% of this group being business customers.

BG&E’s Large Customer Services team is designed to be a trusted energy advisor to customers, meeting and exceeding their needs through strategic partnership, proactive assistance, meaningful innovation and relevant communications.

The team’s purpose is to identify how to make commercial customers’ experience better with BG&E. The team consistently asks themselves questions like,

  • How do we improve the ease to do business with BG&E?
  • How do we improve the customer experience?
  • How do we leverage our internal and external networks to improve our customer’s operational performance?
  • How do we better anticipate customer needs such that we can avoid problems and create efficiency.
  • How do we effectively inform customers of important BG&E programs and services?
  • How do we generate program interest?

Moore explains that servicing large business customers comes with common issues that the team tries to solve in the present and for the future.

“When you work in a large customer organization, you’re going to always have incoming calls about some very routine issues that customers bring to our attention. And that centers on reliability, billing, technology, construction challenges,” says Moore. “So, when a customer calls or emails us about any one of these matters, we try to solve that issue straightforward, but then we gather as a team to talk about how to solve this issue from a long-term standpoint. We shift our mindset that if one customer is experiencing a challenge, it’s more than likely that other customers are also experiencing that same challenge.”

As a result of the team’s input and sharing of customer concerns, they are able to help influence and shape programs and guide customer to new solutions. It’s how they were able to launch the utility’s EVsmart program in 2023, to educate business customers and help them understand the potential of fleet electrification. Additionally, the team’s proactive approach to helping customers is also how the utility’s “Empower Maryland” program resulted in $454 million in commercial rebates since 2009.

BG&E encourages continuous business customer engagement beyond programs through a multitude of ways, including:

  • Monthly newsletters
  • Customer visits and executive team member visits
  • Quarterly webinars
  • Event participation and sponsorships
  • Quarterly meetings with the utility’s Smart Energy Council

“Outside of just addressing customer concerns, we’re always looking for ways to engage our customers from a proactive standpoint,” says Moore. “If we really want to influence customer satisfaction, it can’t just be through taking reliability and billing calls and solving problems. We have to engage our customers proactively. We have to be top of mind.”

A key element of improving its business customer satisfaction, BG&E surveys its customers and reviews the findings for areas to improve upon. In the past seven years, BG&E has been in the 90th percentile for large commercial customer satisfaction. The utility just began surveying its SMB customers on a monthly basis and have thus received an 8.23 out of 10 in satisfaction for 2022.

“There’s opportunities to improve,” says Moore. “But the facts remain that the outreach that we’re providing and the face-to-face interactions are causing our customers to have strong trust for us, advocate for us when they’re asked to, and they appreciate all that we’re putting into making sure that we understand their business and creating that relationship.”

As BG&E continues to reflect on its business customer satisfaction initiatives and prepares for challenges ahead, such as nationwide energy policy changes, Moore explains that they’ll continue to review, become more analytical and make changes where necessary.

“In order to get over those challenges, we need to make sure that it’s fun to do this job, we have to reward our employees for the innovations and ideas that they’re bringing, as well as making sure that we keep the customer top of mind,” says Moore. “If we’re able to take care of all of these things, not only will we have strong customer relationships, but we’ll also be able to build advocacies and partners with our commercial customers that will help guide us forward in our success as we help them continue to receive the energy that they need.”

Boosting Business Customer Satisfaction with Digital Relationships

“Both Derek and Ammanuel discussed the importance of account management and continuous engagement with customers,” says Sharp. “A key element of this is to leverage digital engagement for relationship building.”

As Sharp began her discussion, she was keen to share the importance of focusing on proactive digital customer relationships, sharing that those utilities who don’t initiate a digital strategy risk a multitude of challenges, including:

  • A utility’s only touchpoint with customers is monthly billing
  • It’s harder to reach customers during times of crisis
  • Utilities are unable to capture customer data
  • Energy utilities receive lower satisfaction and customer loyalty

“It’s important to establish ongoing touchpoints to be seen as a trusted advisor, to help foster positive relationships and to educate customers,” says Sharp.

Once a digital strategy is in place, it’s important to develop a multichannel communications strategy to ensure your utility is reaching business customers where they are. To achieve business customer satisfaction, Sharp shared advice on honing an effective communications strategy, including:

  • Keep open and transparent communications
  • Understand business customer needs
  • Provide economic development opportunities
  • Be an electrification resource
  • Support small businesses
  • Ensure a customer-centric strategy

Sharp’s experience as a long-time marketing manager at Entergy provided insights and advice for utilities to develop segmented email campaigns that target individual customers’ interests and needs. For business customers in particular, it’s important to deliver messages and content that will resonate with them, such as energy efficiency rebates or incentives.

Proactive communications are a huge element to an effective strategy, especially in times of difficulty or uncertainty, such as storm communications. Even sending storm communications to business customers shows that your utility is keeping the customers top of mind. It helps build that relationship with them and reinforces that you are their trusted energy advisor.

“My main takeaway is that digital communications is a very cost-effective method for ongoing relationship-building with your customers,” says Sharp. “When you connect with your business customers where they are and with messages that they care about it results in improved customer satisfaction. And you do this through awareness, education and action.”

A Future of Improved Business Customer Satisfaction

Developing and maintaining business customer relationships is just as important and necessary as developing relationships with residential customers. Our speakers shared innovative and tactful strategies other utilities can use to reach their own satisfaction goals. By adopting these strategies, utilities can not only meet customer expectations but also build long-lasting relationships with their business customers.

Learn how Questline Digital can help utilities build digital relationships and improve business customer satisfaction.

Energy utility customers don’t want to be left in the dark during a power outage. When done well, outage communications can be a chance to further engage with customers and earn their trust. On the other hand, a lack of communication during an outage can cause ill will among customers and make it difficult to create a positive relationship down the line.

In our webinar, “How to Build Customer Trust with Outage Communications,” Questline Digital’s Nina Cummins, Senior Director of Key Accounts, and IntelePeer’s Jon Dunham, VP of Strategic Channels, shared insights into building an effective outage communications strategy. They explored best practices for communicating before, during and after power outages and explained why data integration is an important foundation for a successful strategy.

What Do Customers Expect During an Outage?

There are many challenges faced by energy utilities and their customers during service interruptions. To level-set the conversation and encourage webinar attendees to look at outages from a customer’s point of view, we asked them, “Which way do you prefer to get outage updates?”

An impressive 94% of poll respondents said they prefer to receive outage alerts via text — and only 3% prefer email. This is only further proof highlighting the need to understand customer preferences when earning their trust with outage communications.

While it’s unrealistic for customers to expect that outages will never occur, ongoing education and expectation-setting are crucial for an exceptional customer experience. Cummins shared that a staggering 71% of utilities acknowledge that they’re not doing enough to improve customer engagement. Utilities need to make a conscience effort to position themselves as trusted partners to customers by sharing information, collecting feedback and creating strong relationships.

Dunham explored the different perspectives of utilities and customers when facing outages.

From the utility’s standpoint, managing costs and investments while handling a spike in call volumes is a significant concern. On the other hand, customers primarily care about the restoration of service, the causes of the outage and potential safety threats to their families. Striking a balance between managing costs and delivering the best possible customer experience is essential.

“You have to think about the customer’s point of view,” Dunham said. “You need to look at, from a best-practice perspective, How do you reach those customers? How do you find that careful balance between managing your investment in technology and also managing customer satisfaction and how they interact with your company?”

Dunham also shared best practices for outage communications, emphasizing the importance of transparency, proactivity and clear messaging.

Five best practices that were shared include:

  1. Communicate proactively
  2. Remove jargon from messages
  3. Provide direct links and access to important resources
  4. Communicate the scope of the outage to customers
  5. Inform customers before, during and after outages

Before, During and After the Outage: Communicate at Every Stage

Effective communications are needed at all three stages: before, during and after power outages.

To ensure customers are well-prepared before an outage, utilities should provide outage resources (like an outage map), seasonal safety tips and options for customers to opt-in to alerts.

The top advice Cummins shared for this round of communications is to ensure your communications to customers are clear and to the point. Avoid jargon and complicated directions. Provide direct links.

During an outage, utilities must prioritize urgent and transparent communication with customers. A well-defined communication plan should be in place, utilizing various channels such as voice, SMS and digital platforms to ensure timely and accurate information is shared.

Customers should be informed about the impacted areas, the extent of the outage, the number of affected customers and the reason for the outage. It is essential to update them on power restoration efforts and provide confirmation that the issue is being resolved promptly.

After an outage, utilities should communicate details such as the cause, resolution, number of affected customers and even the number of line workers deployed. Reinforcing available outage resources and encouraging customers to sign up for text alerts while the experience is still fresh in their minds is also essential.

Post-outage surveys via SMS, email or outbound voice can provide valuable customer insights, helping utilities evaluate and improve their communication strategy. Real-time customer information associated with the outage journey, channels used and feedback on communication effectiveness are crucial to this evaluation process.

In this stage, utilities should send messages that include thanking customers for their patience, reminding them to sign up for outage alerts and providing safety tips and other resources. By addressing customers’ needs and concerns during and after an outage, utilities can foster a positive relationship and maintain customer confidence.

Integrate Data Into the Outage Communications Strategy

Regardless of where a utility company is in its technology journey, it can still innovate and create a better experience for customers without a major overhaul.

Call center agents use various communication platforms to respond to customers and integrating data from these platforms is crucial to creating a smart, unique experience for customers. For example, an SMS experience should be interactive, allowing customers to respond or even initiate a phone call to the call center directly from the text message.

Data integration can also help utilities monitor the effectiveness of their outage strategies and solutions. By analyzing data such as call spikes, SMS effectiveness and customer feedback, utilities can continually improve their services and maintain positive customer relationships.

Having access to the right data, fully integrated into the utility’s environment, and using insights and reporting tools are essential for continuous improvement and adapting to customers’ needs. This approach enables utilities to create better customer experiences.

Earn Customer Trust with a Successful Outage Communication Plan

Building trust with outage communications requires a successful strategy before, during and after service interruptions. Your utility needs to deliver timely, relevant information each step of the way.

Cummins and Dunham shared helpful tips during the webinar. In summary:

  1. Define realistic customer expectations about outages through ongoing education and communication.
  2. Focus your outage communication strategy all three stages: before, during and after an outage (also called the aware, action and affirm stages).
  3. Provide proactive communication and transparency in all channels, including email, text and social media.
  4. Share safety information, outage causes, estimated restoration times and status updates as quickly as you can.
  5. Thank customers for their patience and provide resources for any future outages.
  6. Gain customer insights through surveys to improve the outage communications strategy.
  7. Integrate data from various sources to provide tailored, interactive experiences for customers.
  8. When starting somewhere, begin your outage strategy with the “during” stage, since this is when customers are most concerned about their power.
  9. There’s no such thing as too much communication during an active outage situation.
  10. Balance communication across channels to avoid overcommunication before and after outages.

Research shows that overall satisfaction among customers who receive outage communications is much higher than among those who do not receive this information. By proactively building out an outage communications strategy, your utility will pave the way for increased customer satisfaction, earn their trust and build engagement in the long run.

Learn how an outage communications strategy from Questline Digital can help your utility build customer trust.