E Source Blog
Welcome to the E Source Blog! Our staff will share insights and observations about life at E Source, our events, our research, and other fun stuff.
What would you do if your utility were to be hit with a major disaster or event? How would you communicate with your customers? Reactively or proactively? What contact channels would you use?
As we all know, there have been many natural disasters recently. Hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires have struck various parts of the continental United States over the past year. All of these disasters are different, but the impacts on the utility are very similar:
- Massive outages occur.
- The restoration process is slow and complex.
- Customers demand answers and updates.
- The media hound the utility for updates.
- Government officials require that effective communciations be conveyed.
At the 26th Annual E Source Forum being held September 17–20 in Denver, Colorado, we’ll present Communicating with Customers Before, During, and After a Major Event, highlighting two case studies of how utilities responded to this challenge during Hurricane Sandy, which hit the mid-Atlantic last fall. And you’ll learn how social media can play a major role in those communcations.
Do you market to business customers using the same messages and channels you use for your residential customers? Well, you shouldn’t! Business customers are a whole different animal. They want to be treated as businesses, not as a mass market or an extension of the residential segment. In fact, businesses want to be treated as though you know their specific sector, be it Grocery, Lodging, Manufacturing, Restaurant, Retail or any other industry. How do we know this? We asked more than 4,000 business customers throughout North America. Some highlights of our research show that business customers:
- Prefer e-mail for most types of communication, for example, energy-efficiency information, newsletters, and rate changes. When you send them e-mails, be sure the subject line is relevant and specific. Only when communicating about outages should you contact businesses by phone.
- Look at paybacks, return on investment, and costs as the most important factors when making energy-efficiency decisions.
- Don’t use social media for interacting or engaging with their utility—not even for outage communications.
- Rank “Works ...
“Such loyalty is admirable, of course,” said Scrimgeour, who seemed to be restraining his irritation with difficulty, “but Dumbledore is gone, Harry. He’s gone.”
“He will only be gone from the school when none here are loyal to him,” said Harry, smiling in spite of himself.
—Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling
As a society, we hold loyalty in high regard—a virtue above all virtues. Loyalty is a common theme in our literature, our politics, our relationships, and our business. I’m fascinated by loyalty and the reasons why it holds power over us. One possible reason for loyalty’s influence is the foundation of trust that’s established. Without the aura of trust between two people, there’s no reason for each to stand by the other when times get tough. Harry and Dumbledore had developed a trust over the years that culminated in a bond that stretched beyond the grave. Emotional connections play a fundamental part in the development of loyalty. We could say that Harry and Dumbledore developed a profound emotional connection that culminated in loyalty. ...
Do you want to create and manage effective energy-efficiency (EE) programs for your small and midsize business (SMB) customers? Do you want to suggest technologies and energy-saving opportunities that SMB customers are most likely to participate in? Do you want to market these programs to your customers in a way that instills trust in your organization? Based on conversations I’ve had with some of you, I think you might. And if you don't, you will after finding out that E Source data can help inform your marketing and targeting strategies.
That’s why E Source analyzed primary market-research data from the Small and Midsize Business Gap and Priority Benchmark survey to develop a series of sector-specific marketing profiles. The survey data represent a geographically diverse group of SMB customers from 16 utilities across the US. The profiles are designed to help utility marketers better understand and more effectively target different types of SMB consumers for successful marketing of efficiency programs and energy-saving opportunities.
For example, when asked the question “Compared to managing your other business expenses, how important ...
I want to congratulate the Top 10 utilities using social media! These utilities were selected by their peers in the 2013 E Source Utility Social Media Survey as being leaders in social media. To get a better sense of why they deserve this recognition, check out their social media links below and read some comments from the survey.
- Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E)
- Alabama Power/Southern Company
- Avista Utilities
- Southern California Edison (SCE)
- Duke Energy
- BC Hydro
- Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. (BGE)
Survey respondents said this about Dominion’s social media efforts:
- “Willingness to push the envelope and content that always strives to be relevant”
- “A solid all-around performer”
- “Great outage communications and on-site photos during major events” ...
I continue to soak in the industry developments I see that are increasingly challenging the traditional utility business model. I’ve written about these drivers before, and others are eloquently addressing them, but just in case some readers aren’t familiar with them, I’m talking about the increased demand response, energy efficiency, distributed generation (DG), and renewables integration that are causing utility revenues to flatten—if not decline.
Dark-red, conservative, rural central Pennsylvania and blue-as-blue-can-be, liberal Boulder, Colorado: These are the two places I’ve lived in my life (so far). America’s political landscape sure doesn’t get much more polarized than that. In both of these places, I’ve worked with countless numbers of highly intelligent people who represent positions all along the political spectrum. These people have incredibly diverse backgrounds, passions, and interests, but we were brought together in our work for one common goal: energy efficiency.
While benchmarking 39 on-bill financing offerings for an E Source report, I learned four fast facts:
- One-third of utility financing packages are of the on-bill variety, where monthly loan payments are set up through customers’ utility bills.
- On-bill tariff programs, in which the debt obligation resides with the meter rather than the customer, are on the rise. Nearly one-third of the programs we examined were on-bill tariff.
- Single-family residential customers have the greatest access to on-bill financing offerings; multifamily customers have the least.
- Three-quarters of on-bill financing offerings have bill-neutrality requirements in which monthly bills are set up to make customers’ cash flow neutral or positive.
For more of the juicy details we uncovered, E Source Efficiency and Demand-Response Programs Service members can check out part one of the benchmarking results, titled Utility On-Bill Financing: A Profile, which examines how different on-bill offerings are structured. And stay tuned for the sequel report later in 2013 that will benchmark the impacts of these on-bill financing packages....
By way of housekeeping, I’m Peter Haid, the newest E Source team member, and I’m writing this blog on my ninth day on the job (yikes!). What is my job? I’m a research practice director who’s honored to help serve all of our members with their customer experience and marketing needs. I’ve been told that one of the reasons I was selected for the position is because I bring some experience from outside the utility industry, but trust me, I’m learning by fire hose every day.
In general, administrators of public energy-efficiency programs expect and welcome feedback from various business and public interest organizations as well as members of the community concerning the design and delivery of their programs. We’ve heard from our member utilities that these meetings can either be productive or a waste of time. In an effort to advance the demand-side management (DSM) industry, we’ve presented some best practices for gathering public input for utility DSM programs in the report called Incorporating Stakeholder Input into DSM Activities. This report is based primarily on case studies from Avista Utilities and Xcel Energy Colorado.
We also dedicated an entire session to this topic at our February 2013 DSM Executive Council meeting, where 20 leaders of utility DSM departments gathered for one and a half days of roundtable discussions. The consensus was that DSM executives value input from participants in the stakeholder process because up-front input and agreement can accelerate regulatory approvals. Utilities definitely appreciate when commission staff attends so they can listen to and gain various perspectives before a formal hearing....