fizkes/Getty Images
Getty Images 1028900586
Getty Images 1028900586
Getty Images 1028900586
Getty Images 1028900586
Getty Images 1028900586

Educating Customers Where They Gather

Aug. 26, 2022
Utility information, which usually appears on their own websites, social media pages and apps, isn’t reaching some customers who need it most.

The T&D World September issue is focused on the upcoming inaugural T&D World Conference and Exhibition. I initially planned to use this column to list some of the important reasons you should attend. Because, however, we dedicated several pages to the event, I’m going to point out a few things and ask you to read the article.

T&D World created this new event as another channel to bring you the latest industry information. After the hiatus on live events in 2020 and most of 2021, we’re thrilled to be offering it. We’ve recruited some impressive industry experts to present use cases and speak about the latest technologies and leading trends their seeing. The conference program includes a lot of speakers who work at utilities, as well as many executive level thought leaders within the industry.

In addition, we have a sold-out exhibit floor! Solution providers are important partners to utilities, and we understand this event would not be complete without an exhibition hall filled with these important companies showcasing solutions.

And, finally, we realize that networking with others from utilities and exhibiting companies is more important than ever. Networking is the thing that was hardest to replace during COVID restrictions.  For that reason, we built a lot of networking time into the T&D World Conference and Exhibition. We want attendees to use that time discuss topics of their choosing.

Speaking of topics of your choosing, I’m using the rest of this column to discuss a topic that’s important to me: customer education, or lack thereof. For much of the U.S. population, summer means higher electric bills. Even though most people know, or should know, their bills will be higher, and they should know why, many are shocked and some angry at their utility when they receive their bills. This summer is especially bad because the cost of natural gas, one of the main fuels for electricity generation, has increased significantly, causing summer electric bills to be higher than ever for many.

I’m a member of a couple of neighborhood/small town social media groups that were set up to let locals know what’s happening around town. At least that’s what I thought. One group is from a town I lived in for 27 years and recently left to relocate to another small town in another state, where I joined a my HOA Facebook group and downloaded the Nextdoor app. Conversations on all three groups are similar. They include some complaints about restaurants, car repair shops, street conditions, etc., as well as notices about upcoming events, road and water line repair and other useful information. Unfortunately, for the last couple of months, one of the main topics on all three has been related to summer electric bills. Where I live, we’ve had many 100 plus degree days and, thanks to electricity and air conditioning, I’m still able to keep my house relatively cool. My bills are high and while I don’t like paying them, I still feel that electricity is a good value, but many people don’t, and others just have a hard time paying their high bills.  

I’m surprised by the number of people who compare their bills to those of total strangers and wonder why one has a higher bill than the other. They don’t understand that a home’s size, age, insulation, HVAC system, thermostat setting, etc. impact electricity use. If someone across town has a lower bill or someone moved from a place where their bill was lower, they conclude their utility must be taking advantage of them. The thread of comments can be incredibly long and inaccurate.  

The fuel cost itemization causes a lot of confusion. Few people understand what it is. And, unfortunately, some who think they understand it, actually don’t and they end up spreading a lot of false information. I’ve seen comments explaining the fuel charge as an added item because gasoline prices have increased and utilities need extra money to cover the cost of fuel for their own vehicles. Others believe it is just another charge that allows electricity providers to take advantage of customers.  

Another common comment is that the meters are not accurate. I saw recently this story posted on one of the Facebook groups: “Smart Meters Could be Over-billing You by a Whopping 582%. Do You Need to Worry?” The story was published in September 2021 on tiffytaffy.com and was written by Freelance Contributor Brittany Hambleton. After a quick Google search, I learned it was based on 2017 research conducted by a team from two universities in the Netherlands that tested nine meters. It’s unfortunate that this story is still being circulated. I suspect that few, if anyone, who saw the headline bothered to read the entire story or question whether the statistics represent the bulk of smart meters in service worldwide today. In addition, is tiffytaffy.com a reliable source for news?

I don’t mean to sound arrogant. I understand that you and I know more about the electric power industry than most and that people struggle to pay their bills. I am, however, concerned that people turn to social media groups to not only complain, but to “learn” from others who are sharing a lot of false information.

This is problematic for electric utilities that work hard to educate and inform customers. Utility information, which usually appears on their own websites, social media pages and apps, isn’t reaching some customers who need it most. In addition to sharing information only on their own social media accounts and websites, maybe utilities should join and monitor conversations on neighborhood, HOA and other local social media groups and apps. They can then join the conversations to provide real education and limit the spread of false information.

Full disclosure: Even though these online conversations bother me, I haven’t yet jump down the rabbit hole and tried to correct anyone.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of T&D World, create an account today!