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Summer 2020: COVID-19 Customer Response

By Julia Renn on

Dog sleeping next to fan

The summer of 2020 promises to pose unique customer experience challenges. We are in the midst of a global pandemic that has kept people locked in their homes most of the spring and now summer. Throughout the lockdown, we saw customers’ expectations from their electric utilities shift as consumers began to look to utilities to provide physical comfort, guidance, and support.

Although some economies have begun to reopen, many people remained at home this summer. Whether they’re working remotely, watching children who would normally be at daycare or camp, or dealing with the ramifications of unemployment, the participants in our demand management programs will be more aware than ever of what is happening in their home and how it impacts their comfort and satisfaction.

Through our ongoing research and feedback collection, we wanted to understand the 2020 Orchestrated Energy experience from our participants’ perspectives in order to discern the impact of sheltering in place, identify critical moments in the customer experience, and uncover opportunities to improve satisfaction and participation both during and beyond the pandemic.

Early Season Trends

Although it is still early in the season, we have begun to receive preliminary results through customer feedback surveys and through our customer support call center which include:

More people are at home this year, and are more aware of events.

Based on the data so far, nearly 80% of participants responding to our surveys reported being at home for all or part of an event. Although this is a marked increase from previous seasons, most are not reporting a negative impact on the comfort in their home. 

People are seeing and liking their event notifications.

Based on responses, customers are seeing their email notifications and are aware that the event will take place. Most participants report being very satisfied or satisfied with event notifications. 

However, people would like to be notified earlier, more frequently, and through additional channels.

When asked “How could the energy savings events notifications be more useful?” customers said they would like:

  • More advanced notice
  • Multiple notifications
  • An option for text message notifications
  • More specific info about how the program will run

People are more aware of anomalies on their thermostat

Although we have seen some increase in event opt-outs over previous years, the majority of participants are not touching their thermostats during events. When participants do opt out, we have noticed an uptick in customers reporting that they overrode during pre-cooling. We hypothesize that this is happening because customers are seeing that their temperature setpoint is lower than they would normally have it and adjusting it in an attempt to be more efficient while not understanding the goal of pre-cooling.

As two customers noted:

It was cooling an area that was not in use so I turned it back down.

The “event” increased my electrical usage! The reason is we keep our thermostat at 80° during the day and the event lowered it to 77°.

Uplight is exploring what additional customer education is required regarding pre-cooling to ensure the best customer experience and event results are achieved.

Comfort and satisfaction scores are generally the same as last year’s.

Overall, respondents felt very positively about both the program and their electric utility.

We will keep an eye on these numbers as the season progresses to ensure that we continue to meet participants’ needs and achieve our high levels of satisfaction with the program.

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over, and invariably people will continue to be at home more than they have in the past. Demand management programs are important tools to reduce energy consumption and energy bills as well as strengthening utility-customer trust. While overall customers are satisfied with their utility’s communication and approach, there is an opportunity to educate customers on pre-cooling as they pay more attention to their thermostats.

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