Over the past few months, Questline Digital has worked with our energy utility partners on a variety of coronavirus-related communications. On May 21, Questline Digital President Dave Reim held the fifth town hall forum to share these “tales from the trenches” to help other utilities develop their marketing and content strategy.
In this webinar, Questline Digital’s energy utility and marketing experts discussed what communications strategies, platforms and cadence were most effective during the pandemic. They also shared re-engagement strategies for programs, initiatives and services for energy utilities to implement in the coming months.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, messages to energy utility customers have evolved — from initial safety and reliability-related alerts to payment assistance program promotions. As Questline Digital Account Supervisor Julia Halterman explained, many energy utilities sent out initial coronavirus messages to business and residential customers in an alert or letter-style format. However, as our energy utility partners have demonstrated, proactive communications during uncertain times extend above and beyond an alert.
For example, a major Northeast investor-owned utility sent out communications centered around its awareness and action toward maintaining continuity amid COVID-19. The utility then began weekly communications from the president, lending credibility to future messaging. In April, the utility’s messaging transitioned to saving energy, managing bills and payment assistance programs, among other topics. Based on the high levels of engagement, it is clear that customers want thoughtful and responsive communications from their energy utility.
The right time for promotions
In just a few short months, the world has completely changed and “business as usual” is no longer the case. As a result, some utilities halted their program promotions, instead focusing on COVID-19 messages and newsletter communications. As society transitions to a new normal, the question remains: When and how should utilities re-implement their program promotions?
According to Questline Digital Account Director Nina Cummins, now is the time to restart promotions because customers want to hear from you. Questline Digital’s team of experts recommends changing up typical promotional messaging to fit the current situation. For example, emphasize the “convenient” and “contactless” benefits of paperless billing.
When easing back into marketing efforts, energy utilities should determine what programs are most helpful for both parties. According to Cummins, there is a fine balance of internal program goals, remaining profitable and being sympathetic to your customers who are facing difficult times. Consider promoting these programs that are beneficial to utilities and customers:
- Energy efficiency programs
- Time-of-use plans
- Smart thermostats
- Appliance recycling
- Home energy assessments
In addition to program promotions, our engagement experts recommend continuing customer onboarding campaigns. For example, Questline Digital’s Welcome Series is experiencing five times the benchmark click-through rate. Keep in mind, some of our clients have paused energy efficiency messaging within Welcome Series to remain empathetic to customers.
Helping customers in need
With an unemployment rate of 14.7%, your customers need your help during this difficult time. Questline Digital Account Director Josh Platt discussed a national Electric Power Research Institute survey gauging consumer views on energy utilities during COVID-19. The survey found customer actions are not in line with customer expectations. Customers are using electricity more than ever before and expecting greater utility assistance. However, few respondents reached out to their utility for help — illustrating the importance of proactive communications.
One of our clients, a major investor-owned utility in the Southeast, sent out a payment reminder email to inform customers they temporarily suspended disconnects for non-payment. This email, sent to more than 86,000 customers, provided an option to make partial payments and linked to the utility’s COVID-19 resource page (the second most visited page on the utility’s website). The email experienced extraordinary engagement rates with a 41% open rate, 12.7% CTOR and 5,850 total clicks.
Newsletters are necessary
Throughout the pandemic, customers have been eager to hear from their energy utility — evident in the high engagement of our clients’ email newsletters. Brian Lindamood, Questline Digital’s VP of Marketing & Content Strategy, discussed how customers are not only reading articles, but clicking on links and program promotions within eNewsletters.
A regular and reassuring touchpoint, eNewsletters provide both residential and business customers valuable and relevant content. Content examples range from work-from-home tips to saving energy during business downtime. For example, at the beginning of the pandemic, one of our energy utility partners was quick to replace their entire March eNewsletter with coronavirus content, including energy efficiency, reliability and health and safety topics. The open rate of 37% was more than double their usual open rate.
As these communications success stories showcase, energy utilities have many opportunities at their disposal to reach customers. It behooves utilities to use a variety of communication touchpoints — from one-off emails to program promotions to eNewsletters — to provide important coronavirus-related information to their customers.