The novel coronavirus pandemic has changed the way all we all live and work. Utilities are tasked with being a force of stability in this turbulent time as well as responding to shifts in energy usage. On March 26th, our Chief Customer Officer, Jay Grinde, and Senior Vice President, Marketing, Indran Ratnathicam, hosted over 40 of our utility clients in a virtual working group to discuss mutual challenges, early actions, and emerging approaches for maintaining effective customer communications and engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The conversation highlighted a number of questions and challenges the energy industry will face in the coming weeks and months. With so many unknowns, most notably the date when we will return to ‘normal’, it is clear we will continue to look to each other as a support system during this time.
Here are some of the key themes that emerged from our discussion:
“Safe and Reliable” Service for the Community Comes First
The top priorities for utilities at this time, as always, are keeping the lights on and serving the community, and communications reflect this. Many utilities are emphasizing decisions to suspend disconnections, offer flexible payment options, and provide affordable essential services in their communications.
Digital Channels Are Becoming Even More Critical for Customers
Many utilities are turning to digital channels like social media, and utility websites as the best ways to keep customers informed and engaged. As people are spending more time at home, digital traffic is increasing in all sectors. According to the latest Kantar data, web browsing is up 70% and social media is up 61%. At Uplight, we see the importance of maintaining existing digital touchpoints, but with modified messaging that recognizes the difficult time customers are experiencing.
Adapting Messaging to Meet the Needs of All Customers
It’s important to recognize that the current customer experience varies depending on individual customer circumstances including if they are working from home, have kids in the home, have a job impacted by COVID-19, have a sick loved one, and more.
At Uplight, we’re focused on framing messages in a way that are accessible to everyone. That means reviewing reading level on all content and focusing on behavioral-based, low-cost, and family-friendly energy saving tips. Utilities are also getting creative with the type of content they’re producing: one is planning to launch online activities, like downloadable coloring books and Energy Efficiency Treasure Hunts, to help parents looking for educational activities to entertain kids at home.
Digital Communications: What’s On, What’s Off?
Although some utilities paused some communications and marketing, prudently, for messaging review following the initial days of social distancing and COVID-19, most are quickly editing and updating messages so they can provide important assistance and advice to customers. As one of our customers told us, “Digital communications have never been more important than they are right now.” At Uplight, we are prioritizing the highest-impact messages, like low-cost thermostat promotions and “staying at home” energy saving advice, and narrowing our audiences to make sure we’re sending the right message at the right time.
As the situation evolves, we want to continue the conversation to share learnings and experiences. We are hosting a second working group on Thursday, April 8th to discuss how the pandemic impacts on Marketplace – and how we can continue to make the Marketplace valuable for customers during this time. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to register!