5 Digital Communication Trends for Utilities in 2021
- Jan 22, 2021 3:05 am GMT
This item is part of the State of the Industry 2021 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more
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.
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.
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.
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