Photo by Vikroiia Hnatiuk,
Vikroiia Hnatiuk
Vikroiia Hnatiuk
Vikroiia Hnatiuk
Vikroiia Hnatiuk
Vikroiia Hnatiuk

How Utility Messaging is Adapting to the Moment

April 6, 2020
Utilities are working hard to help their customers navigate these uncharted waters. National Grid is delaying a scheduled rate increase and extending limited-income discounts

Millions of people are staying home right now to protect their communities and care for their families. We’re all having to adjust—from modified work situations to impromptu homeschooling—and those changes, not surprisingly, are causing families to use more energy at home. Our early analysis of one region’s energy data shows a shelter-in-place order may have caused a 20% increase in residential energy use.

And those higher energy bills are beginning to arrive at a moment when many households can least afford to pay them. Jobless claims are on the rise and are expected to increase in the coming months.

Utilities are working hard to help their customers navigate these uncharted waters. National Grid is delaying a scheduled rate increase and extending limited-income discounts. Many more utilities are suspending shutoffs, collection activities, and non-essential planned maintenance outages.

It is as important as ever for utilities to continue engaging customers every day to help them reduce their energy use and their bills. Many utilities are thoughtfully rethinking how they engage their customers and what to say right now.

We have been working closely with our utility clients to adapt their messaging, and it started with taking a brief pause.

Pause and assess

Now more than ever is a time to take care with public-facing messaging. Helping people save energy, money, and protect the planet remain critical goals, but right now the priority is protecting each other.

A few weeks ago, our utility clients briefly paused their customer engagement activities to assess and suppress any consumer-facing content that’s just not appropriate for the moment. That included recommendations for in-home technicians to do home energy audits and retrofit work, which conflicts with social distancing orders. It meant pausing potentially insensitive recommendations to upgrade appliances in a moment of financial uncertainly. And it meant preventing confusion by suppressing energy-saving advice to reduce hot water temperature and wash clothes in cold water, which runs counter to CDC guidance.

Show support

Thankfully, that content represents a small fraction of the simple actions people can take to save energy and money. By our count, utilities serving over 60 million households have quickly resumed engagement with their customers, and many more work outside our purview.

Utilities are continuing to offer hundreds of recommendations, each one personalized to each customer, and they are adapting their advice to be thoughtful to the moment. Utilities in New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Texas, and California chose to send their customers specific advice on saving energy while they are home during the day, like this:

Utilities are also adapting their outreach to include supportive messages like the one below.

They are using print and digital channels, and a variety of personalized communications in Home Energy Reports, Usage Alerts and Weekly Energy Updates to show support to their customers.

Some utilities have chosen to pause targeted marketing activities on their own web portals in favor of delivering a similar supportive message while people adjust to the new normal.

Many customers will need financial assistance in the months ahead, and utilities can provide it to customers who are aware of their programs. Before this crisis began, utilities that have embedded targeted program offers within personalized communications have seen program adoption rates increase by an average of 30%.

All our inboxes may be stuffed with pandemic updates from everyone with whom we’ve ever done business, but the service utilities provide—and their relationship with each customer—is unique and essential. Utilities are adapting their messaging to underscore that throughout this public health crisis, people need not worry about their energy service. Utilities will continue to deliver the safe, reliable energy they need every day.

Learn and adapt

Each region and utility is being affected differently and choosing to adapt messaging in their own way. Some are not yet experiencing the effects and continuing business as usual for now. Others are choosing to focus purely on showing support. The vast majority of utilities we serve are continuing to reach out to help their customers save energy and money because their customers need that help now more than ever.

One thing has become clear in the past few weeks: utilities’ work is far from done. As the health and economic impacts of this crisis play out over the coming months, utilities will need to continue to quickly adapt their operations and the ways they engage and serve their customers. And they will. As one utility executive told me recently, “Utilities are built for operating through emergencies.” 

Opower currently provides energy data analytics on over two trillion meter reads and powers the utility customer experience for more than 60 million households.

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