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At Loveland Water and Power, Every Day Is Get to Know Your Customers Day

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Loveland Water and Power in Loveland, Colorado isn’t shy about getting into the community, giving both commercial and residential customers ample opportunities to share their comments, concerns, and ideas. Customer Relations Manager and Public Information Officer Tracey Hewson, KAM, EEM explains, “We share information on social media, attend city-sponsored events, participate in the community, and host presentations throughout the year.” Key benefits include creating meaningful relationships with customers based on “trust, transparency, respect, and service,” says Hewson, “leading to customer satisfaction because they know we’re not just trying to keep the lights on, but offering the absolute best service we can.”

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Constantly Engaging

The Loveland Water and Power customer relations team uses the following methods for interacting with customers:

Facebook. The team uses the department's Facebook page to make announcements, not just about the utility, but also events going on in the community, and invitations to readers to provide feedback.

Attend city-sponsored events. Local events are a great opportunity for getting out and talking to people about power-related matters. For example, explains Hewson, “During our Winter Wonderlights event, people can walk a path through one of the city’s sculpture gardens, all lit up, giving us the perfect jumping off point to talk about LED lighting and to visit with folks about their concerns regarding the utility and the city as a whole.”

Participate in the community. Team members participate in events such as Loveland Connect, which offers services to homeless persons within the community. Hewson says, “These events give us the opportunity to gain visibility and let people know that we’re not just city employees, but also citizens who care about our fellow citizens. Sometimes it’s these less formal events that produce the most feedback from customers because people are talking to us person-to-person rather than customer-to-service-provider.”

Host presentations. The team also hosts a large “key account” (accounts with the largest and most impactful commercial businesses) meeting once per year, to offer an opportunity to socialize, present rate changes, and highlight projects these customers have worked on with the team throughout the year. Additionally, the team holds periodic lunch meetings to present information to anyone in the community who wants to attend.

Benefits and Challenges

In addition to building trust, these activities help customers to feel heard, and feel like their voices matter in city operations. Hewson comments, “It takes time to develop effective communication strategies, so our job is never really done.” But the work is worth it when customer feedback leads to things like new efficiency programs, a community solar program, an energy efficient profile, and close work with the city’s economic development team on business retention.

The high level of involvement also presents challenges. One, says Hewson, is overcoming the misinformation that can spread on social media. She states, “It’s hard to address a dissatisfied customer that gets on Facebook and says things about the utility that are untrue. We must not only resolve the original problem, but also get people back on track about the reality of the situation.” Another challenge is keeping messages fresh and accessible to different audiences.

Lessons Learned

All of these efforts have given the team insight into what works well. Hewson says the most important thing is “being visible,” which can be accomplished in so many ways. Another key is partnering with other utilities to create efficiency programs. This method is effective, notes Hewson, because , “Many companies in this area have locations in more than one city, and many residents own properties in various locations. We want to make sure those customers can access services across the board to make the most of rebate offerings.”

Meanwhile, Hewson acknowledges, “It’s good to know that some events — such as the city’s Corn Roast Festival — have more of a party atmosphere, and people aren’t as interested in stopping at a table to talk about energy.”

The team is heavily involved with the Colorado Association of Municipal Utilities (CAMU) and the American Public Power Association (APPA), which both have listservs where utility professionals can ask questions or find answers. Hewson believes it’s important for utilities to share their successes with each other. She says, “In addition to communicating online, we should be going to conferences and participating in roundtables with other utilities, because sometimes someone has found a ‘golden nugget’ and, if we try it, it might be a great success for us too.”

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