For energy utilities, ongoing communications will be key to helping residential and business customers navigate the COVID-19 crisis.
On April 16, Questline Digital President Dave Reim hosted the third coronavirus town hall forum and led a discussion on what utilities should be communicating to their customers beyond crisis communications. Questline Digital’s team of industry experts discussed messaging strategies from energy utilities that have been most successful with their communication efforts during the pandemic.
What our data shows about COVID-19 crisis communications
Since mid-March, Questline Digital has assisted our energy utilities partners with the deployment of more than 100 separate email campaigns, reaching over 50 million energy utility customers. According to our performance metrics, the average open rate for coronavirus-related messages is 40.4% — which is nearly 50% higher than the Questline Digital benchmark.
This data demonstrates that customers want to hear from their utility on important topics like billing assistance programs, safety information and COVID-19 business resources. We are seeing an email cadence of one to two emails each week per audience (residential and business). These emails are focused around the following topics:
- Safety and reliability
- Corporate messages
- Energy efficiency
- Income challenges
- What’s recent/new
Messaging that matters
Questline Digital Account Director Nina Cummins emphasized how safety and reliability messages resonate with customers who want reassurance that their power will remain on. To put customers’ minds at ease, utilities should communicate emergency and business continuity plans, the importance of serving critical infrastructure, rescheduling non-essential in-home services and other reliability-related topics.
Following safety messaging, Questline Digital Account Director Joshua Platt explained how many energy utilities are sending corporate messages, often in the form of president or CEO letters. These messages focus on how the utility is helping their employees, customers and community, such as donations/contributions, business resources and scam alerts.
Susan Kownacki, Questline Digital’s VP of Account Services, reiterated the economic toll of COVID-19 with millions of Americans losing their jobs. Many utilities have been proactive about creating COVID-19-specific solutions and communicating them to customers on multiple channels, including email, websites and social media.
These solutions include suspension of service disconnections for non-payment and waiving late payment charges. Utilities should also reinforce the assistance tools and resources they already have in place for economically challenged customers, including:
- Budget or level billing
- Online payment extension
- Other financial assistance online
eNewsletters are essential
In addition to email communications, eNewsletters are an important platform to reach customers during this challenging time. Brian Lindamood, Questline Digital’s VP of Marketing and Content Strategy, covered topics to include in your eNewsletter, such as saving energy at home, business downtime and bill payment/financial assistance.
In the coming weeks, it makes sense to shift your content from immediate health and safety topics to more ongoing, stay-at-home concerns. For example, customers are concerned about the increased energy use associated with work from home. When crafting COVID-19 messages, think about answers to these questions:
- What are your customers most concerned about during the pandemic?
- How is your utility and employees dealing with the changes?
- How are lineworkers staying safe and keeping social distance?
- How can your utility help customers with valuable resources and tips?