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Utilities should keep messaging to residential customers focused on assistance they're providing

image credit: © Ffikretow | Dreamstime.com

The novel coronavirus pandemic has millions of Americans trying to figure out how to pass the hours while they’re stuck in their homes.

That had me wondering if this would be a good time for electric utilities to try to nudge their residential customers in the direction of being something other than passive power consumers by encouraging them to use their newly acquired spare time to familiarize themselves with programs that enable them to save money based on when they use electricity.

Based on discussions with a couple of people who have thought about such matters, I've concluded that the answer is "Probably not."

Certainly, the mass layoffs necessitated by the pandemic have many Americans extremely interested in anything that will save them money. And time-of-use and other payment programs enable them to do that. There are two caveats, however.

One is that the people who would most benefit from such programs likely are enrolled in them already. Chris Oberle, the senior vice president, energy, for consulting firm Escalent, said in an email that people who use them typically have monthly bills that are about one-third higher than average.

The other is that customers only have so much mental bandwidth to spend on interacting with their electric utility. As a result, utilities should focus on making sure their most important messages are getting through — and those messages involve letting customers who are having difficulty paying their bills know of the steps the utilities are taking to help them.

"Most utilities have instituted different forms of payment plans or similar programs that will result in keeping the lights on for customers who cannot pay their monthly utility bill due to the crisis, typically in the form of the suspension of late fees and collection activities," Mike Smith, the principal energy consultant for software firm SAS told me in an email. "One of the keys is not only the implementation of these programs, but to over-communicate the availability of these programs. It’s critical to communicate across multiple channels that the utility is here to serve its customers."

Discussions

Mike Smith's picture
Mike Smith on Apr 23, 2020 11:14 pm GMT

Thanks Peter!

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