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Karen Marcus's picture
Freelance Business Writer Final Draft Communications, LLC

In addition to serving as an Energy Central Community Manager, Karen Marcus has over 20 years of experience as a content developer within complex industries including energy, technology...

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How the COVID-19 Pandemic Has Impacted Customer Expectations

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Few things have been left untouched by the COVID-19 pandemic, and customer expectations have shifted along with so much else. Utilities can use this situation as an opportunity to strengthen bonds with customers and deliver even better service. The following areas are a good place to start.

Remote Workers Have New Needs

Some residential customers who started work from home (WFH) arrangements during the pandemic will continue them. A SurveyMonkey and Zoom survey found that about 80% of workers surveyed want to continue to WFH at least some of the time and there are many benefits for both employers and employees.

However, this shift will involve some adjustment on the part of WFH employees, including in the way they interact with their energy utilities. Between increased use of devices, using more heating and cooling to stay comfortable, and using lighting and appliances more, their energy needs have increased. CBS News reports, “In California, residential energy use during the pandemic has risen 15% to 20% over the same period last year.”

Their related communication needs have increased as well. These customers might want new information about how they can reduce energy costs, get involved with EE programs, and receive alerts that let them know as soon as possible about outages and restoration progress.

Utilities can respond by creating promotional campaigns that target WFH employees specifically. Some of the messages might be the same as those in previous campaigns (such as “Here are our EE offerings,” “Contact us to talk about how to reduce your energy bills,” or, “Sign up for alerts about planned outages”). But directly targeting this group can help you frame the issue around their specific challenges.

Suffering Customers Want Utility Guidance

Some customers who lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic found themselves in a situation they’d never been in before — one in which they needed assistance to pay their electricity bills. Utilities stepped up to direct them to government-assisted programs and this extra effort is now a baseline expectation. As utilities start to end their shutoff moratoriums, there will be an even greater need in the community for this type of outreach. Again, the key here is communication and promotional campaigns that target customers in need directly.

Empathy Is Expected

During the pandemic, empathy gained in terms of what customers across industries feel are the most important customer service qualities. According to Salesforce Research, which performed research on the topic, it was #3 during the summer of 2020, behind only expertise and speed. ZDNet explains that empathy “means listening with interest, removing obstacles, minimizing wasted time and friction, and demonstrating generosity and the willingness to be accountable for delivering a solution that is acceptable to the customer.” Customers who saw companies, including utilities, up their empathy quotient during the pandemic are likely to want this level of treatment to continue.

Utilities can meet those expectations by taking a step back and thinking about what empathy may mean in post-pandemic customer transactions. While the approach may be the same, circumstances have changed. For example, rather than helping them pay their bills, utilities could focus on delivering more personalized service. Additionally, customers may now be taking on projects they left undone because of social distancing requirements. Helping them with energy efficiency tasks will help them pick up where they left off prior to 2020.

Have you noticed changing customer expectations since the pandemic started? If so, what, specifically, has changed and how are you responding? Please share in the comments.

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