Questline is the innovative digital communications agency dedicated solely to the energy utility industry. We are strategists, creators and problem-solvers for over 480 energy utilities across all 50 states. Visit questline.com.

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5 Digital Communication Trends for Utilities in 2021

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President Questline Inc.

Dave Reim is a seasoned veteran in the energy utility industry with over 30 years of experience. As the current President and co-owner of Questline, Inc., Reim’s focus and knowledge resides...

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As we enter a new calendar year, energy utilities are focused on growing digital relationships with customers beyond bill payment and outage or crisis communication, expanding touchpoints to better deliver on customer needs. In fact, 73% of utilities marketers rank improving their customer contact strategy as a top priority, according to a study by Jaywing.

Why? Because the digitally engaged customer is a highly valuable commodity to utilities. Digitally engaged energy consumers unleash significant business benefits. They are more accessible, more engaged, and report higher satisfaction ratings.

As utilities continue to invest in their digital communications, here are trends we expect to shape 2021 efforts:

DEMOGRAPHIC TIPPING POINT

According to the U.S. Census, more than half the U.S. population is now the Millennial generation and younger. How are utilities adjusting their communications to reach younger audiences?  

Most members of this group view themselves as digital consumers by default. They expect digital options and are open to various forms of communication through online and mobile channels.

Yet younger customers, while digitally inclined, can be harder to reach. They don’t read email as readily as older generations. Effective communication to Millennials must expand to other digital channels.

Energy marketers have an opportunity to stand out to younger customers by embracing tools like social media, video, content marketing, and reputation management. Meeting younger audiences where they spend their time will be essential for energy providers as they work to grow these customer relationships.

ENVIRONMENTAL AWARENESS

The EIA projects that the share of renewables in the U.S. electricity generation mix will increase from 19% in 2019 to 38% in 2050. As the transition to renewable energy continues, utilities must address their customers’ learning curve. While most consumers understand the concepts of solar, wind and hydroelectric energy, there remains misinformation about the environmental impacts and effect on rate structures. 

Utilities bear the responsibility of becoming the unbiased educator around renewable energy sources. To build trust with customers, utilities must facilitate proper understanding. Generating and sharing reliable content that helps customers take control of energy use will be imperative to 2021 digital communication efforts.

More than ever, customers are looking to be informed about their energy choices. Providing reliable and unbiased information with a multi-channel digital strategy can help grow new and existing customer relationships.

NON-LOAD REVENEUE SOURCES

Energy utilities are working to increase their non-load revenue sources through mediums like digital marketplaces. This requires energy providers to become considerably more marketing-centric. 

Utilities must shift their communication strategies if they want to successfully introduce these offers to customers and reach revenue goals. If customers only hear from their utility providers for monthly bill payments, it is difficult to introduce sales messages for new products.

Utilities must establish regular communication cadences and incorporate messaging that introduces the benefits of marketplace products. Effective marketing requires that brands build trust and offer relevant advice. A content marketing strategy that supports non-load revenue sources will be essential.

But be wary that overly promotional content often falls on deaf ears. Customers want to see products and advice that are specific to their energy use habits. Leveraging data and customer segmentation to send personalized content recommendations can help to boost marketplace sales.

SMART HOME ADOPTION

With more people expected to work from home in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, residential energy use in the U.S. is predicted to rise by 6% to 8%. This at-home energy use increase is causing consumers to incorporate new tools for monitoring and managing their electric bills. 

Smart thermostats have seen an uptick in sales, with projections for continued expansion. The smart thermostat market is expected to see a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23.1% from 2020 to 2025.

As more consumers begin to use new technology to take control of their energy use, how should utilities respond?

Many consumers still have a lack of understanding or fear around the impacts of smart home technologies. They don’t fully know how they can effectively conserve energy and save money by incorporating systems that monitor energy usage and have concerns about the safety of smart devices.

Utilities again have the responsibility to act as the trusted resource. They should educate customers on the impacts of smart home technologies and guide purchase decisions within their marketplaces.

NEWSLETTER RESURGENCE

Driven by the general shift to digital, companies of all kinds are leaning on email newsletters to hit the right note with customers.

More consumers are getting their news from e-newsletters than ever before. E-newsletters are a powerful tool used to build direct relationships with audiences. They provide an opt-in environment that helps readers cope with information overload, offering a curated selection of content from reliable sources directly in their smartphone inboxes.

How can energy utilities enhance their communication to meet the expectations of customers through email? By acting as a trusted voice and helpful resource.

Those utilities that can expand e-newsletters to segmented audiences have even further potential to grow their reach and build engagement. Ask customers about their interests and build a content strategy that meets their specific needs, then establish a regular touchpoint with a monthly newsletter to keep your utility top of mind.

BUILD TRUST AND GROW DIGITAL RELATIONSHIPS

There’s a clear theme in 2021 digital communication trends: grow customer relationships by building trust through unbiased and personalized digital content.

Utilities have an opportunity to build relationships with customers in 2021 by leveraging digital communication channels in more proactive ways. Consumers want educational information they can trust and put to use. If they can look to their utilities for answers and guidance, customers will have a more favorable relationship with their energy providers.

“Digital” encompasses far more than email in 2021. While email remains a highly essential communication and marketing tool, businesses everywhere are exploring new channels to reach customers where they are, baking digital connections into every customer experience.

Questline
Questline is the innovative digital communications agency dedicated solely to the energy utility industry. We are strategists, creators and problem-solvers for over 480 energy utilities across all 50 states. Visit questline.com.
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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 8, 2021

Energy utilities are working to increase their non-load revenue sources through mediums like digital marketplaces. This requires energy providers to become considerably more marketing-centric.

This is a great point-- being stuck in the past in terms of what a utility can/should be will stunt the growth of all aspects of utility business, especially meeting the customer where they are / want to be!

mark wilkinson's picture
mark wilkinson on Feb 24, 2021

So many great points in this article.  Among the great benefits of demographics is the long lead time available for some of the sweeping changes they portend.  We've known for a decade that Millennials and now Gen Z generations will usher sweeping changes for customer expectations and customer experience.  So, no surprise that digital communication, already the norm, needs to flex again to adapt to the coming wave of new customers for utility platforms.  

And, more than one utility executive found disappointment from a marketplace launch that didn't result in much traffic of sales.  Successful utility marketplaces depend on marketing and customer outreach to drive awareness, interest and traffic.  No better way to deliver that relevant, timely and personal communication than content marketing about key topics like energy efficiency, program enrollment, new products and services, etc.  

Utilities won't find a better time to lean in on these trends as customers emerge from COVID shock to the Next Normal.  We may return to offices and restaurants more frequently post-COVID, but we also expect more from digital communications and our trusted brands.  No going back from there, and utilities can benefit the most from small steps in digital modernization and outreach.

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