Who Should You Target to Maximize Engagement in Utility Programs?

Posted to Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC) in the Customer Care Group
image credit: Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC)
Nathan Shannon's picture
President & CEO Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative

Nathan Shannon is the President and CEO of the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative, whose mission is to advance consumer-friendly, consumer-safe smart energy through research, education and...

  • Member since 2015
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  • Sep 6, 2022

Today’s utility customers represent a full spectrum of values, motivations and behaviors. Some are highly motivated by the environmental concerns, others by an affinity for technology. Others prioritize comfort or prefer minimal to no contact with their electricity providers.

To better understand exactly who today’s consumers are and how industry stakeholders can reach them with programs and services that better meet their needs, the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC) recently updated its consumer segmentation framework, following an online survey of 2,500 Americans who pay their electric bills.

The online sample for the survey was weighted to census data for age, gender, region and income and explored a variety of topics with respondents, including:

  • What are consumers’ attitudes towards technology and their electricity usage?
  • What devices do consumers own and do they use them to save electricity?
  • How do consumers view their electricity providers?
  • What information do they want and how do they want to receive it?
  • Do consumers know what impacts their bill? Or how their usage affects the grid?

From these responses, new consumer segments were developed that rely primarily on consumers’ interest in their electricity usage (and how that usage affects the grid) and their comfort with and use of technology at home. This new framework is designed to help stakeholders connect with their customers in ways that align with their personal values, preferences and lifestyles.

While there are ways to improve satisfaction for all types of consumers, there are a few segments in SECC’s new framework that are more likely to view innovative utility offerings more favorably. These range from the Green Pioneers, who are both tech-savvy and eco-friendly consumers, to the younger Connected Pragmatists, who offer promise but may need assistance in seeing the benefits of participating.

At 21 percent of the U.S. population, the Green Pioneers represent the “sweet spot” of consumers that highly value technology, energy efficiency and environmental stewardship and are, therefore, more likely to participate in innovative utility programs. They are the most knowledgeable consumers when it comes to using electricity and understanding how their behavior impacts the electric grid, and place a high value on reliability compared to other segments.

Green Pioneers will lead the way and be willing to try new technologies, especially those that can help them reduce their environmental impact, improve grid reliability or keep their bills down. If looking to build a neighborhood microgrid or launch a smart speaker-enabled program, for example, these are the customers that will be enthusiastic participants and offer valuable feedback throughout the process.

While the Green Pioneers may be the “sweet spot”, both the Connected Pragmatists and Simply Sustainable consumers have values and motivations that suggest they could be a good fit for many programs and services, especially if their barriers are addressed by electric utilities and other stakeholders.

Representing 22 percent of the population (making them the second-largest segment), the Connected Pragmatists are a group that features many younger renters that are comfortable with technology but not overly concerned with their electricity usage. When it comes to smart home technology, their rates of ownership are similar to (or even higher than) the Green Pioneers – yet they’re less likely to be using these devices for energy-related purposes.

When asked whether they’ve taken a variety of actions to manage their electricity usage at home (such as installing energy-efficient lighting, participating in a demand response program or improving weatherization), the Connected Pragmatists were generally less likely than other segments to have participated. Yet, when looking at interest, they’re right behind the Green Pioneers.

This high interest combined with their high level of smart home technology ownership makes them a great target for bring-your-own-device programs or other programs that they can access as renters. This group, who have the lowest levels of trust and satisfaction when it comes to their electricity providers, will, however, require carefully tailored communications to get them to engage.

Finally, Simply Sustainable is the largest segment at 28 percent of the general population. This segment tends to be older homeowners, and while they have strong environmental values, they are less comfortable with technology than some of the other segments. Current ownership of smart home devices is relatively low, and when it comes to actions they’ve taken to manage their home’s energy consumption, they’re likely to have taken simpler steps, such as installing energy-efficient lighting.

However, due to their environmental concerns, they’re open to participating in energy-saving programs – if stakeholders can make the technology components easy and understandable for them. Promoting simple solutions and set-it-forget-it technologies may be attractive to consumers in this segment who are looking for ways to reduce their electricity usage and bills while helping the environment.

For example, an electricity provider may offer a smart thermostat along with “white glove” set-up based on the consumer’s preferences. Or the provider may offer technical support to integrate the consumer’s existing smart speaker with available energy-related functions to help manage the home environment and electricity use. Of benefit to all consumers, but particularly important to the Simply Sustainable, is simplified navigation of program enrollment and search functions for energy-saving tips and offers on the provider’s website.

As the only organization in the energy space that focuses solely on consumers, SECC’s research seeks to assist electricity providers and other stakeholders in understanding consumers as their needs, wants and behaviors evolve over time. By using SECC’s new segmentation framework, stakeholders can deliver programs, services and technologies that maximize engagement and build meaningful relationships as trusted energy partners.

Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC)
SECC is a nonprofit organization that works to learn the wants and needs of energy consumers, encourage the sharing of best practices in consumer engagement among industry stakeholders, and educate the public about the benefits of smart energy
Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 6, 2022

Great insights, Nathan-- appreciate you sharing them!

Do you find equity needs to come into play as well? For success many utility programs need to have a wide reach, but ideally that won't be at the expense of reaching overlooked communities even if they may not be as high volume. 

Nathan Shannon's picture
Thank Nathan for the Post!
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