Today’s customers feel strongly about their payment preferences. With a multitude of options available to them, from autopay to Apple Pay, consumers expect the same choices from their energy provider. That’s why it behooves energy utilities to understand the importance of payment preferences and give customers what they want.

In Questline Digital’s webinar, “Utility Customer Payment and Self-Serve Opportunities,” Qwana Falkenberg, Customer Services Supervisor at Georgia Power, and Joshua Platt, Account Director at Questline Digital, discuss why customer payment options are vital for improving customer satisfaction.

“There are numerous ways to define customer payment preferences,” Platt says. “So why do we care about payment options and devote an hour-long webinar to the topic? We care about payment options because your customers care about payment options.”

Evolution of Utility Customer Payment Options

Customer payment preferences have evolved over the last few years just as the technology for making payments has changed. According to E Source, in 2018 customers’ top payment options were automatic payment, online payment through a utility’s website and check. In comparison, in 2022, customers’ top payment preferences were online through the utility’s website/portal or paying via mobile (text or app).

According to Falkenberg, 57% of U.S. consumers made their payment through an electronic method, while only 25% used traditional payment methods, like check, money order or cash. During the coronavirus pandemic, the number of consumers using mobile wallets for payments increased from 900 million to 1.48 billion worldwide.

“This speaks volumes on what customers are looking for when it comes to making their payment,” Falkenberg says. “The payment preference evolution is definitely on the rise.”

As expected, different generations prefer different payment methods. For example, Axerve finds that Baby Boomers prefer paying by cash, checks and debit cards, while Millennials and Gen Z prefer digital methods like Venmo and Apple Pay. With every younger generation, there is a greater preference for digital payments.

  • Baby Boomers (1940s to 1960s): cash, check, ATM cards
  • Generation X (1960s to 1980s): credit and debit cards, PayPal
  • Millennials (1980s to 1990s): credit cards, prepaid cards, PayPal, Venmo
  • Generation Z (1990s to 2010s): prepaid cards, digital wallets (like Apple Pay)

Income also has a significant impact on payment preferences. The most common payment method for all incomes is autopay or through a utility’s website/portal. As income increases, the use of autopay increases. According to E Source, about 40% of customers who make over $75,000 a year pay their bill through autopay. In comparison, only 25% of customers who make under $25,000 a year utilize this method.

Lower-income customers are more likely to pay their bills via walk-in centers, phone or mail. However, with the price of postage continuing to rise, this may be changing. Conversely, higher-income customers are more likely to pay their bills through autopay and online.

“Higher-income customers typically have more money available to make ‘set it and forget it’ payments,” Platt explains. “They also may have more reliable technology access and are generally more tech-savvy.”

Focus on the Customer Experience

In addition to offering a variety of payment options, it’s important to create a quality digital customer experience. In fact, 58% of consumers want the ability to view their digital bills in multiple places. Unifying payment options under a common, easy-to-use interface has many benefits for energy utilities, including:

  • Minimizing steps to complete payment
  • Easing discovery of payment options
  • Facilitating autopay adoption
  • Increasing paperless billing enrollment
  • Improving payment reliability

This is where the importance of education comes into play. Platt shared the example of SoCalGas, which took advantage of video to help customers understand their bill and explain how to enroll in the utility’s My Account and online bill pay. Through video and other educational resources, utilities can play “show and tell” to help customers take advantage of self-serve options.

This seamless experience includes interactions with a utility’s customer service representatives. Microsoft’s Global State of Customer Service Report shows that 35% of consumers rank an agent’s lack of knowledge as a poor customer experience. Additionally, the majority of customers agree that their time being valued is imperative to a good customer experience.

“Each and every one of us are customers,” Falkenberg says. “As we engage with agents with the companies we do business with, we want to know we are speaking with someone who is knowledgeable and can assist as well as educate us on our options. As customers, we are all busy people and time is of the essence.”

For the initial customer contact to be successful, understanding their request is imperative. If this part goes wrong, it erodes trust and negatively impacts the customer experience. According to Falkenberg, Georgia Power ensures every interaction includes education to ensure customers enroll in options that fit their unique needs.

Flow chart showing call flow for utility customer payment requests

“The initial customer contact is critical — it can either serve as a brand strengthener or a brand diminisher,” Falkenberg says. “The key is anticipating customers’ needs and delivering an exceptional customer experience.”

Bill Payment Options Abound for Utility Customers

For Georgia Power, payment options continue to grow based on customer feedback and preferences. Through their Online Customer Care options, the energy utility offers mobile app, autopay and online payments. For customers who prefer making a payment in person, the utility created partnerships with various vendors like Fidelity Express, PayGo, Walmart and Kroger.

Online Customer Care

  • Web                                                                           
  • Autopay or One Time (ACH)
  • Debit Card (BillMatrix)


  • Debit/Credit/BillMatrix IVR

Authorized Payment Location (APL)

  • Fidelity Express, PayGo Checkout, Western Union, U.S. Payments and Fiserv CheckFree
  • Cash
  • Debit Card (Walmart & Kroger only)


  • Checks
  • Money Order

Based on recommendations from a J.D. Power survey, Georgia Power eliminated payment fees in August 2020. The utility found that satisfaction was low among customers who had to pay an additional fee along with their bill. As a result, eliminating the fee had a positive impact on customer satisfaction.

Going forward, Georgia Power continues to grow its payment options and will soon be moving into the digital wallet space. Digital wallet options include:

  • PayPal
  • Venmo
  • Apple Pay
  • Google Pay
  • Amazon Pay

“Customers are telling us what they want,” Falkenberg says. “We are actively listening and anticipating their needs to further strengthen the relationship and deliver on our promise of exceptional customer experience.”

Creative e-Bill Promotions Boost Enrollment

For energy utilities, a continued challenge is increasing enrollment in paperless billing. According to Platt, 66% of customers receive bills by mail, but only 48% preferred to be mailed this way.

“It’s important to highlight benefits like convenience and ease of use — how paperless billing makes their life easier,” Platt says. “Remember, customers don’t care that your energy utility saves an average of $6 on printing and postage when they enroll in paperless billing unless you tell them why it matters.”

Ways to encourage e-bill enrollment:

  1. Showcase how e-bill fits into customers’ daily lives
  2. Consider an incentive or sweepstakes to capture attention
  3. Try easy and convenient enrollment options

Lincoln Electric shares on their website how they reinvest savings realized from paperless billing by planting trees in the utility’s service territory. The utility also installs solar-powered charging stations for mobile devices and electric wheelchairs in local parks. This message resonates with customers, demonstrating how paperless billing has a direct impact on their community.

Platt recommends incentivizing customers to go paperless, such as a bill credit or sweepstakes. For example, an investor-owned utility in the Southeast promoted paperless billing with a $5 gift card in exchange for enrolling in the program. Questline Digital research shows that customers offered a guaranteed incentive are more likely to respond than those offered a sweepstakes prize.

Energy Customers Want Payment Choices

In today’s world of personalization and infinite choices, payment options have a huge impact on customer satisfaction. From mobile app to mobile wallet payments, listening to what your customers want is key. When it comes to payment preferences, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. That’s why your energy utility needs a wide variety of payment options to meet the needs of all customers.

Questline Digital can help your energy utility boost customer satisfaction with a payment option communication strategy.

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

Drawing from the Data

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

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

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

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

Example statistics from 2022 Energy Utility Benchmarks

Update on Apple Privacy Changes

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

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

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

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

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

Metric Breakdowns Per Category

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

  • Welcome Series
  • Program Promotions
  • Business Customer Engagement

Welcome Series

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

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

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

Program Promotions

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

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

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

Example statistics from 2022 Energy Utility Benchmarks

Business Customer Engagement  

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

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

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

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

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

Example statistic from 2022 Energy Utility Benchmarks

Data to Drive Your Utility Forward

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

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

To help solve problems and transform the customer journey, energy utilities need to think like their customers.

In our webinar, “The Ins and Outs of Utility Customer Journey Mapping,” Zach Hardison, VP of Solutions Innovation at Questline Digital, and Brent Baker, VP and Chief Customer Officer at City Utilities of Springfield, Missouri, provide insights on the importance of customer journey maps and why they are essential to helping energy utilities transform the customer experience.

“Customer journey mapping is a design framework that helps us solve customer problems with the customer in mind,” Baker says. “We often go into the utility mindset on how to design something, but customer journey maps really help us elevate our minds to what it is like to be our customers and to develop processes with the customer as our focus.”

What Is Customer Journey Mapping?

Customer journey mapping is a visual workflow that outlines a step-by-step experience that customers have with a brand, service or product. According to Hardison, a customer journey map highlights a customer’s actions, emotions and behaviors within an experience:

  • Actions: This includes any actions that the customer is taking or any actions that your energy utility is taking
  • Emotions: How your customers or employees may be feeling about a particular pain point along the journey
  • Behaviors: How your customers are behaving or moving through an experience

“Customer journey mapping allows you to think like your customers to better understand how they feel about your utility as a company, brand and experience,” Hardison explains.

A customer journey map has many benefits for energy utilities, including:

  • Strategy and resource planning
  • Identifying customer pain points
  • Improving customer satisfaction
  • Identifying operational efficiencies

Hardison notes that customer journey mapping is an excellent tool for strategy and resource planning. It allows you to identify an experience that’s difficult for customers as well as the specific pain points. For example, a customer journey map can tell you where customers get hindered in a process, such as signing up for paperless billing, receiving outage text alerts or enrolling in an energy efficiency program.

“I see customer journey maps as a catalyst to bring a more customer-focused culture into an organization,” Baker says. “From the utility perspective, a customer journey map helps us to be relentless at solving customer problems. The journey mapping process can bring diverse groups together to solve problems differently than they had before.”

Quotation from Zach Hardison Your customer journey map should always be actionable

Customer Journey Mapping Examples from Other Industries

To showcase the effectiveness of customer journey mapping, Hardison and Baker shared a variety of examples from other industries. For example, several years ago, Ford Motor Company designers were strategizing how to make opening a car door low effort for consumers. They utilized customer journey mapping to walk through the specific steps that would be required for customers to open their car door using a smartphone app.

The designers found that a digital solution actually hindered customers and made the experience far worse. The customer journey map became the genesis for a much more user-friendly and easily accessible solution. Ford’s hands-free Liftgate allows customers to open it by kicking their foot underneath the vehicle.

Hardison shared how Starbucks took advantage of customer journey mapping to create more channel options to meet customers’ preferences. The world’s largest coffee chain wanted to find a solution for customers who enjoyed the experience of going to a coffee shop and interacting with the baristas but desired a more streamlined experience.

Ultimately, Starbucks created their drive-through window with this customer base in mind. For a subgroup of customers who are less extroverted and more tech-savvy, the mobile app order came into fruition. With customer journey mapping, Starbucks was able to create the right experiences to meet the unique needs of their customers.

Example of customer journey mapping from Ford

How Do You Create a Customer Journey Map?

Creating a customer journey map starts with these five steps:

  • Identify the experiences you want to analyze
  • Identify the users in the experience — primary, secondary, etc.
  • Cluster your users into distinct groups
  • Interview users from your groups to get direct input
  • Map out the steps, including actions, mediums, emotions and behaviors

If you already have an experience you want to analyze, Hardison recommends identifying the users and breaking them down into specific personas, such as tech-savvy customers or those who own an electric vehicle. Identifying your primary users provides a better understanding of who your energy utility should be building experiences around.

“It’s also helpful to have one-on-one interviews with your customers to get their direct input. During these conversations, customers will tell you what you want to hear and probably what you don’t want to hear,” Hardison says. “Either way, you’ll receive a highly objective view of your company and experience.”

For Baker, customer journey mapping was essential to improve City Utilities’ power outage experience and emergency service requests — two moments of frustration for customers. The utility set up a cross-functional team to develop the customer journey map and expedite improvements. Through this process, they were able to recognize what was most important to customers. For example, how often do customers want to be texted during an outage and what information do they want to receive?

“We experienced some resistance on providing an estimated restoration time to customers,” Baker says. “It requires a lot from our operations group to stop what they are doing to provide restoration updates. However, we discovered these communications are very important to customers.”

Quotation from Brent Baker From the utility perspective, a customer journey map helps us to be relentless at solving customer problems

Making Progress with Your Utility Customer Journey Map

Once you have a customer journey map, your energy utility can identify the possibilities:

  • Prioritize your pain points
  • Define your desired outcomes
  • Identify your metrics and success measurements
  • Make the customer journey map actionable

According to Hardison, it’s essential to prioritize your pain points in alignment with your primary user or target demographic. This helps you to understand what you are going to do first, second and third. What pain points do you want to alleviate the most? What are you willing to hold off on? It’s also important to understand the level of effort to reach your desired outcomes.

“If something is painful but a high effort to solve, you might want to reconsider if you do that first or not,” Hardison explains. “If something is painful and low effort, that will usually jump to the top of the list. This is a good exercise to go through to identify what solutions you’re going to implement.”

After defining your pain points and desired outcomes, the next step is identifying metrics and success measures. As your energy utility implements change, it’s key to have a process in place to measure improvements over time. This ensures you have the data you need to communicate regarding ROI and the progress you’re making toward long-term goals and objectives.

“Your customer journey map should always be actionable,” Hardison says, “It’s not just a pretty picture you hang on your wall and call it done. It’s a springboard and catalyst to robust projects and definable action.”

Quotation from Brent Baker We often go into the utility mindset on how to design something but customer journey maps really help us elevate our minds to what it is like to be our customers and to develop processes with the customer as our focus

Utility Customer Journey Mapping: A Catalyst for Change

From major brands to small businesses, companies worldwide are taking advantage of customer journey mapping to address customer pain points. This framework helps your energy utility build the momentum necessary to make positive changes. With an actionable journey map, the possibilities are endless to improve the customer experience.

“It really gives us an ability to have a conversation about making changes,” Baker says. “I found early on during my time in customer service, it was often difficult to explain the real benefits of making changes for customers. Oftentimes, it looked like cost impacts, not benefits. The journey map really helps you understand what it’s like to be a customer of your business.”

Learn how a customer engagement strategy from Questline Digital can address the pain points on your utility’s customer journey map.

In Questline Digital’s Plugged In webinar, “How to Market Paperless Billing to Customers,” Senior Copywriter Breanne George and Creative Director Joe Pifher shared their insights and advice for creating successful promotions that encourage customers to switch to paperless billing.

In order to reach your program goals, your energy utility needs to understand your customers and their motivations. In doing so, you will be able to segment and promote your paperless billing program with effective messaging.

Use the right message to make them switch

In order to know what type of paperless billing campaign is right for your energy utility, you must first understand your customers. The right paperless message is personalized to your target audience.

Ask yourself this: How will paperless billing make your customers’ lives easier? To help answer this question, get to know your customers:

  • What are their needs, wants and interests?
  • What are their challenges or barriers to adoption?
  • What do their day-to-day lives look like?
  • What are their values and motivations?

George suggested a few ways to encourage the switch to paperless billing, based on successful campaigns she has worked on for energy utilities across the nation.

  • Showcase how paperless billing fits into your customers’ daily lives. This could be as simple as how your customers get to work. For example, if customers often commute on a train or subway, easy access on-the-go would be an important benefit to showcase in your paperless campaign.
  • Try easy and convenient enrollment options. Customers like simplicity – make signing up for paperless as easy as one-click enrollment and your conversion rates can increase dramatically.

Customer motivations drive eBill enrollment

Often customers who don’t switch to paperless billing have one of three reasons for not doing so. They may fear that…

  • Enrollment will take too long, and they don’t have the time
  • Going paperless will mean they won’t have statements for their records
  • They’ll be more likely to forget a payment if they switch to digital

To combat these concerns, your energy utility should relay the top paperless benefits for customers:

  • Simple – easy to manage and pay from anywhere
  • Convenient – saves time and fits the customers’ on-the-go lifestyle
  • Affordable – no need to buy stamps or worry about late fees
  • Eco-friendly – use less paper and reduce environmental footprint
  • Reliable – never forget or lose track of a bill again
  • Secure – safely manage statements and payments online

Business and residential customers have very different needs, so segmenting these audiences is encouraged. When it comes to paperless billing, business customers value:

  • Easy access to past bills and usage history
  • 24/7 bill availability when they are out and about
  • Less paper clutter in their office

Encourage multiple generations to switch to paperless billing

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the digital age of TikTok and Twitter, but when it comes to Millennials and Gen-Zers, George says email is still a viable option for these younger generations.

In fact, she shared that nearly 75% of millennials and 58% of Gen-Zers check their emails multiple times a day. However, they have a 12- and 8-second attention span, respectively, so it’s important to connect with these customers through storytelling rather than with overly promotional copy.

When it comes to older generations, Questline Digital often sees the biggest concerns related to payment security or having records on hand. George suggests “speaking to their concerns first.” Reinforce the safety of paperless billing and how it is often more secure than dropping a check in the mail. It’s also important to show them how to retrieve records of their past bills with a simple click.

Design best practices to boost campaign performance

The next step following great copy is great design. Pifher, Questline Digital’s Creative Director, shared the email best practices to consider for your creative campaign. These tips include having a message hierarchy, keeping a clear and active CTA and ensuring the email is mobile-friendly.

It’s also imperative for your energy utility to use the right imagery. You want the image to be relatable to customers, eye-catching and relevant. Pifher stressed the importance of looking at your specific audience demographics to determine the visual elements of your campaign:

  • People – age, gender, race, socioeconomic status
  • Region-specific – weather, transportation, landscape
  • Customer interests – sports, local spots, the environment, values and motivations

Pifher suggests utilities design around the inverted triangle strategy: grabbing a customers’ attention at the top, building anticipation in the headline and first few sentences and then taking them to the call-to-action. There should be plenty of white space throughout the design. Ensure the email is easy for customers to scan with the use of bullets or icons.

Incentives add value to eBill sign-ups

Pifher recommends testing incentives in your campaigns to encourage more people to switch to paperless billing. Customers often enjoy being rewarded, even if the incentive is small in value.

Questline Digital’s performance metrics show smaller, immediate rewards perform better than enter-to-win sweepstakes. However, it’s important to test large and small incentives with your target audience.

Pifher also says that by developing not just a single email, but also web banner ads, social posts, direct mail inserts and more, your energy utility is able to reach customers no matter which channel they prefer to use.

The impact of coronavirus on paperless promotions

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted every aspect of people’s lives, including how they get mail or pay bills. Before the pandemic, a large push for paperless billing was the “on-the-go, anytime, anywhere” messaging. Now, Pifher says customers are looking for more convenient ways to pay bills and messaging has turned to “on the couch or in bed, anytime, anywhere” messaging.

The importance of “no touch” payments and a focus on decluttering paper bills became more important benefits of paperless billing for customers. In addition, the pandemic has simply shown the importance of adaptation — whether due to major pandemics or simply customer interests changing. The ability to shift focus at a moment’s notice is an important skill to have when developing campaigns. 

Successful campaigns require more than a simple email

As these insights show, there are many aspects to a successful paperless billing campaign. Between knowing your customers, segmenting messages based on their needs, motivating customers through diligent copy and creative design, connecting through an omnichannel approach and adapting for current environments, there is more involved to reach conversion goals than a simple email.

Equipped with these copy and design best practices, revisit your paperless billing campaign strategy to achieve your energy utility’s conversion goals.

Help more customers switch to paperless billing with an eBill marketing campaign from Questline Digital.

As the new year approaches, marketing teams everywhere are planning their communication strategies to reach customers in 2022. For energy utilities, this is no different. It’s a perfect time to reflect on what worked or didn’t work in the past and revitalize your marketing efforts for the year ahead.

In our recent webinar, “2022 Email Marketing Best Practices & Trends,” Bethany Farchione (Questline Digital) and Cynthia Price (Litmus) shared their forecast for design and marketing trends and how utilities can prepare to make the biggest impact on customers.

A Look Back at Last Year’s Email Marketing Trends

Farchione began the webinar by taking a step back to discuss the email marketing trends Questline Digital saw in 2021, including:

  1. Personalization and segmentation
  2. Automated campaigns
  3. Interactive emails
  4. Bold/bright email designs
  5. Multichannel marketing

“For 2021, the biggest thing we saw was a massive rise in digital adoption and digital communications,” she said. “What’s important as we move forward is maintaining and growing that engagement into the next year.”

She explained that personalization and segmentation became major influencers, impacting nearly every communication as utilities tried to better target their audiences. “These trends are not going away in 2022,” Farchione added. “We expect that they will continue to grow in importance, but we do see a handful of new trends being added.”

A Look Ahead at Email Marketing Trends for 2022

Farchione proceeded to look ahead to the major themes of 2022:

  • Email marketing will continue to be extremely important
  • The goal for utilities is to keep engaging with the digital customers they acquired in 2021
  • Focus on continuing to improve digital services and experiences

“A new study from DMA Consumer Tracker says that 96% of consumers check their email every day and over 70% of consumers believe that email is the best channel for company contact,” she said. “So, while email has been around forever, it’s still really important within the customer communication mix. When done right, it’s actually a conversation with your customers, which is really valuable and powerful.”

Farchione also shared the most important trends to watch in the coming year.

Top 10 email marketing trends of 2022:

  1. Create an improved after-sales experience
  2. Audit and understand your data
  3. Accomplish more with your newsletters
  4. Optimize for all platforms and preferences
  5. Create more interactive emails
  6. Ensure your emails are accessible
  7. Showcase user-generated content
  8. Utilize preference centers
  9. Hyper-personalize your email campaigns
  10. Adapt to changes with open rates and privacy

Create an improved after-sales experience

Farchione shared that customer journeys are becoming more important to pay attention to and targeting customers where they are in that journey matters. Research from McKinsey shows that customers are actually asking for, and want, an improved after-sales experience.

For utilities, building this improved workflow for customers will be especially important for program enrollment, onboarding and marketplace sales.

Farchione shared an example of a customer purchasing a smart thermostat and the importance for utilities to be part of that journey. “Following up with customers and having journeys for each interaction is essential,” she said. “How do they install the thermostat? Do they need maintenance reminders? Do they need suggestions for future purchases? How do they make the most of that thermostat? Customers are looking for guidance.”

Understand your data

Price reflected on the importance of segmentation and personalization for utilities and shared, “At the core of every great segmentation strategy is understanding and using your data effectively.”

She recommends an annual audit to understand what data points are available and specify what your goal is for understanding that data. “Start with the key data points that you think will allow you to build customer segments and dynamic campaigns that will really give you a more effective experience.”

Make more of your newsletters

Newsletters aren’t new, but now is the time to go all-out with them. They’ve seen a resurgence of popularity in the past year and for good reason — they provide the foundation for ongoing customer engagement.

“We recommend that utilities focus on creating specialty newsletters for different interests that their customers may have. And since they are a foundation for engagement, we recommend sending them monthly. Customers are accustomed to getting monthly newsletters and when done right, they look forward to them,” Farchione said.

“Newsletters are an amazing way to build trust over time,” Price added. “Goals with newsletters are often less specific than for other campaigns, and they’re a great way to build awareness and trust for brands in general.”

Optimize for all platforms and preferences

Price explains that there is an overwhelming amount of data that shows that one bad experience in an email, whether a broken link or an image that doesn’t render, can turn off a consumer to a brand. “It can have long-lasting negative effects,” she said.

With the number of platforms available for users and the different requirements for each, it’s essential to test for quality assurance to ensure everyone receives emails as they were intended.

In addition, coding for dark mode needs to be at the forefront of development. Dark mode has become increasingly popular in the past few years. In fact, Price shares that over 80% of consumers who use Apple devices use dark mode. Therefore, it’s important to ensure your utility is checking how emails will look with dark mode rendering.

Example of dark mode email testing for different clients

Create more interactive emails

Interactive email continues to rise in popularity. In general, interactive content includes surveys, calculators or games. For email, interactive content simply means adding interest and movement so your messages stand out to customers.

“People like excitement in their inbox. They’re in their inbox every day so they need more visually exciting creative materials to keep their interest,” Farchione said.

Plus, the data doesn’t lie — interactive content is proven to generate five times more views than static content.

Ensure your emails are accessible

Focusing on email accessibility not only ensures that anyone is able to engage with the email, “it also makes the emails more pleasing and you see better engagement from all audiences when you use foundational accessibility techniques,” Price said.

She shared some tips to make emails more accessible:

  • Copywriting: Keep it concise and limit jargon
  • Design: Create a strong hierarchy, use white space and high contrast
  • Email code: Use semantic HTML and include alternative text for images

Showcase user-generated content

Data shows that consumers trust other consumers before they trust a brand. Because of this, both residential and business customers want to see the success of others. By including video testimonials or case studies, new customers can see firsthand experiences of the success of energy efficiency programs or marketplace purchases. Adding actual customer reviews directly in email is also a valuable way to prompt more action and improve click-through rates.

Utilize preference centers

Utilities obtain most of their customer data from contact information when they sign up for service. But what customers actually want and expect from utilities differs from this generic information. Preference centers are great tools for asking for details about a customer that might not be readily available when one signs up for service.

“With preference centers, you’re emailing them with content they actually want to get from you,” Price explained.

A few benefits of using preference centers includes:

  • Reduced unsubscribes
  • Showcasing email offerings
  • Increased engagement

Preference centers allow utilities to see which topics customers are interested in, or not interested in, and helps to tailor messages specifically for that individual.

Hyper-personalize your email campaigns

“Gone are the times of mass email messages,” Farchione said. “People want and expect content that fits their specific interests and needs.”

Hyper-personalizing communications makes customers more engaged and helps your utility reach its business goals. As Farchione pointed out, “Personalization drives performance and better outcomes.” In fact, data from Content Marketing World 2021 shows that 74% of customers are frustrated when information isn’t tailored to them.

Farchione shared an example of Questline Digital’s work with AEP Ohio on a segmentation strategy for the utility’s business eNewsletters. After adding targeted, industry-based audiences such as healthcare and education, the utility saw an 84% increase in engagement among its business customers.

Changes to open rates and privacy

Apple recently introduced Mail Privacy Protection, a privacy setting that hides IP addresses so senders can no longer see who opens an email, the time of open, location or type of device.

Although many utilities are concerned about these changes, Price reminds us to look back at the goals: “What was the goal of the actual email? The goal was never for customers to open it, the goal was for them to engage with it in some way.”

Price recommends expanding KPIs to better align them with long-term business goals. She suggests considering:

  • Email quality
  • Unique clicks
  • Account activity
  • Website visits

Prepare Your Marketing Strategy for 2022

As your utility looks ahead to the new year, consider these email marketing trends when planning your communications strategy.

Questline Digital can help your energy utility deliver more effective and engaging email communications.