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Utility Customers Need More Than Mailers

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Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

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  • Nov 18, 2021

From thwarting scams to providing bill pay assistance, utilities are constantly looking for ways to help their customers.  Across the country, the consensus is the same.  Electricity prices are rising.  How are utilities providing customer care, empathy, education and assistance?  In anticipation of rising costs, FirstEnergy Corp. in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland is encouraging residents to shop around for the best electric supply deals.  The utility urges a careful review of pricing options to get the most savings during the winter months.  “With energy rates elevated and poised to increase further, we encourage our customers who live in states with energy choice to review their bills and make sure they've selected a plan that best meets their monthly financial needs," said Mark Jones, vice president of Customer Engagement for FirstEnergy.  The Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate is trying to educate consumers on how to reduce usage and therefore, reduce costs.  “With temperatures already dropping below freezing in many parts of the state, no one should have to worry about how to stay warm this winter. Our Office of Consumer Advocate is raising awareness to consumers on how they can best prepare their homes for these increased heating costs, and making sure they are aware of the assistance programs available to them,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General, Josh Shapiro.  “Utility rates are an essential pocketbook issue for Pennsylvania residents, especially those 50-plus. Too often, older Pennsylvanians must choose between paying for their heating bill and paying for their prescriptions. With these projected price increases, the winter heating season is going to be a challenge and knowing where to go for assistance is more critical than ever.” said Bill Johnston-Walsh, State Director for AARP Pennsylvania.  

Like most utilities, CPS Energy in San Antonio, Texas, has resumed disconnections but is proactively looking for ways to contact customers about assistance.  Interim CEO Rudy Garza said the utility is working on a plan to go door-to-door to talk with customers about their options. “There are some customers who are challenged by being able to get around to get to an event,” said Garza. “Maybe customers who don’t have cell phones, maybe elderly folks or they may live alone. We believe there’s a need to go out and start knocking on doors.”  The utility wants customers to update their contact information so customers can be reached in an emergency situation.  Because on-going communication with customers is crucial, the company is testing different approaches including phone calls, text and emails. Customers are also encouraged to update their information online under “manage my account.”  

Transitioning from moratoriums has been stressful in itself but now the added weight of higher electricity bills will shake most households.  According to energy analyst, Matt Chester, in a guest blog for Doxim, utilities must: 1. Be thorough in explaining the situation. 2. Be empathetic in how the transition is handled. 3. Be proactive in finding ways to work with, not against, customers.  Those suggestions remain relevant and could provide guidance on how to engage customers this winter.

What is your utility doing to educate and assist customers on how to catch up on past due bills and to avoid exorbitant electricity bills?  And how will you reach them with helpful information on how to save money and energy this winter?  


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