Over the past few weeks, the world has come to a halt, with most people sheltering in place during the coronavirus pandemic. In the US, this has instantly had a profound impact on energy usage – by Uplight’s preliminary estimates, residential usage has increased by more than 20-30 percent in some areas of the U.S. At the same time, people are facing significant health and financial stress, and our utility partners are asking how they can best support their customers during these unprecedented times. More than ever, when people are stressed, dealing with new information, and navigating new ways of working and living, it is essential to get the right message to the right customer through the right channel at the right time.
How Personalization Can Help During COVID-19
For utilities who have some type of personalization capabilities in place, now is the time to use them to their utmost. Residential energy usage is increasing amidst the COVID-19 crisis, making it challenging for people, particularly those who are facing financial hardship, to pay their monthly utility bills. A challenge for utilities is to give these customers assurance that they will keep the lights on, while at the same time dealing with the operational impacts of late and / or missed payments, increased call volumes, and more. Personalization can help to meet these challenges in both comprehensive ways, like through a multichannel next best action system, or in simpler applications, such as starting with just email outreach or the call center channel.
Personalization in Action
Take for instance a customer whose data shows evidence of payment challenges, as well as certain demographic criteria, such as income eligibility, who calls into the call center. From there, the CSR can immediately remind them of the disconnection moratorium to help ease their anxiety, but also quickly look up that customer’s account and run down a list of next best actions that are best fit, such as making a payment arrangement or signing up for balanced billing. In this way, the call center representative can be both compassionate with the customer, but also help them with solutions that are tailored to their specific needs, and drive business objectives, such as arrears collections and first call resolution.
Leveraging Personalization Principles for COVID-19 Communications
During this difficult time, utilities we’ve spoken with are trying to play three primary roles with customers, beyond of course safety and keeping the lights on:
- Ensuring the utility is there for their customers during this challenging time
- Helping customers with financial challenges as energy bills increase, while at the same time a significant number of people are facing employment impacts
- Helping customers understand and manage the new changes in their energy use, primarily around cost and comfort – as a way of taking some control during stay at home orders.
Relevant recommendations that offer assistance and support to customers can help utilities achieve these three communication objectives.
COVID-19 Recommendations or Next Best Actions
So what are some of the recommendations or next best actions that can best support customers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and where should they be applied? Here are some examples of communications we’re seeing at Uplight.
- COVID-specific health and safety reminders
- Utility is here to help reminders
- Make an alternate payment arrangement
- Sign-up for balanced billing
- Get income-qualified bill assistance
- Enroll in billing and payment notifications
- Enroll in high bill alerts
- Go to engagement portal to see energy usage and tips
- Behavioral energy efficiency tips
- No or low cost energy efficiency recommendations
- Online home energy assessment
- Virtual home audit
Channels for Personalization
Part of personalization is delivering the right message on a customer’s preferred channel. These recommendations can be delivered in various channels, including:
- Utility website (homepage, residential landing pages, etc.)
- In a utility bill or in a bill insert
- Via the call center
- Email (direct, home energy report, bill alert)
- My Account
- Text messaging
Whatever the channel, it’s important to make sure messaging is consistent for each customer across channels.
By delivering messages that are particularly relevant for each customer, utilities can cut through the noise and be a trusted advisor to their customers during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Let us know how we may help you by contacting us.