Just over a week ago, E Source staff got together with more than 700 of our members for the 2018 E Source Forum. Over three information-packed days, we heard from industry experts on topics in five high-level tracks: marketing, demand-side management, customer experience, technology, and account management. Here, we highlight five sessions that cover the latest trends and strategies in these topics that you can take back and apply at your utility. Forum attendees and E Source utility members can download the presentation materials.

1. Energy managers want to hear from their utility account reps

Mike Hildebrand, vice president of E Source Account Management Solutions, ran a session called Deep Dive into the Minds of Marriott’s and Whole Foods’ Energy Strategists. Doug Rath, Marriott’s senior director of energy and environment for the Americas, and Kathy Loftus, Whole Foods’ global leader for sustainable facilities, talked about what support they would like to see from their utility account managers.

Both were adamant that inaccessibility to utility meter data was a particular pain point. They would love real-time (or near-real-time) information pushed to them to help make quick strategic decisions. They also wanted more contact with their energy account managers. But they warned against email inundation, noting that they only have time to read messages with clear subject lines and straightforward information.

Energy mgrs want real-time utility data and account rep contact that’s focused on the bottom line. #ESForum2018 Tweet this!

2. Make smart speakers work for you

In E Source senior manager Essie Snell’s session The Rise of the Smart Home: Innovative Pilots and Strategic Opportunities, we learned how the adoption of smart speakers like Google Home and Alexa is booming, and how utilities can take advantage of this technology. According to the E Source Residential Utility Customer Survey, 27% of US respondents currently own a smart speaker, and 60% of them say they are interested in a voice-activated utility app.

Currently, smart speaker apps offer features such as account balance information or efficiency tips, but there’s so much more they can do. Think about other ways you can use smart speaker functionality to connect with customers, for example,—help them understand different rates, walk them through a home-energy audit, or promote trade allies. A well-designed app can increase customer satisfaction and reduce call volume.

Smart speaker owners would love to be able to say “Alexa, pay my utility bill.” #ESForum2018 Tweet this!

3. Evaluate your organization from the customer’s perspective

In Driving Transformation Through Customer Experience, E Source lead analyst Eryc Eyl led a discussion with Lori Kirkland, chief experience officer at Terrapin Digital; she’s also the head of the Denver chapter of the CX Professionals Association. They agreed that successful customer experience (CX) starts with a commitment to customers at every level of the company. Make sure you’re paying attention to all of the channels your customers are using, because between 50% and 60% of them will already have done research before they reach out to customer service. The customer experience starts well before any interactions with utility staff, so if you’re waiting to wow them with a call, chat, or email, you’re already behind.

Kirkland’s advice was to learn who your customers are and use that information to reach them. Start by creating personas for your three most important customer types, then talk to those customers to determine what each type’s top three priorities are. Those nine data points can drive utility-wide prioritization of projects that will give the highest return.

50%-60% of customers look before asking for help; CX starts before any interactions with staff. #ESForum2018 Tweet this!

Two dresses on mannequins; one is black lace, with blue layered sleeves made of solar shade material, the other is floor length and made entirely of cream solar shade material.

4. Shaping program success with experiential marketing

In Opportunities in Experiential Marketing: Driving EV Adoption and Beyond, three speakers highlighted the results of their energy-efficiency-focused projects.

Jeff Beeson, manager, product marketing at Evergy (formerly KCP&L) spent two years advocating for the addition of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in Kansas City and focusing on getting local dealerships to keep EVs in stock so that their customers could drive them. His efforts helped make his town number one in the nation for EV growth.

Casaundra Donahoe, senior marketing manager at SRP, spearheaded a design challenge for college students, focusing on using recycled solar shades as a primary material in a fashion show aimed at raising awareness of the benefits of shade. Her efforts led to a social media storm of 2,300 engagements shared organically by utility customers.

And Rae Anne Moen, a consultant at SaskPower, organized a three-year traveling exhibit about electric infrastructure that reached 200,000 of her utility’s 500,000 customers and was both educational and entertaining for all ages; 36% of SaskPower’s customers now say they understand the importance of spending on upkeep. 

Show that the utility is approachable and interesting, and involve customers in the conversation. #ESForum2018 Tweet this!

5. Prepare and optimize for EISA

E   DSM practice director Kate Merson’s session, Mind the Gap! How to Lead Your Utility into the Next Generation of Savings, focused on the future of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA). Utilities should be prepared for EISA and look to the commercial sectors to make up any losses from residential programs.

Mark Schoenheider, leader of the efficiency engineering team at Xcel Energy, discussed the continuing need for lighting efficiency programs. He mentioned that inefficient bulbs are still dominating the market—LEDs are displacing CFLs, not halogens. Meghan Dewey, senior manager, energy efficiency portfolio and product management at Pacific Gas and Electric Co. spoke about the need to move to a new portfolio paradigm and looking to energy efficiency as a grid resource. Next-generation strategies will focus on meter-based savings, behavioral efficiency, and targeting specific customers with the right opportunities at the right times.

Lighting opportunities are still out there, such as replacing halogen lamps in commercial spaces. #ESForum2018 Tweet this!

Long story short, the E Source Forum was fantastic—we hope you can join us next year!

Did you have a favorite session or speaker at Forum or learn something new that you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below.

Contributing Authors

UX Writer and Project Manager

Sarah Thompson has been working as a technical writer and editor for more than 20 years. Her first role, writing user guides for database products...