In partnership with PLMA, this group is for practitioners from energy utilities, solution providers, and trade allies to share load management expertise and explore innovative approaches to program delivery, pricing constructs, and technology adoption.

Question

What's the best messaging approach for encouraging new customers into load management / demand response programs?

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  • Dec 16, 2021
  • 1078 views

Many customers have never come across load management or demand response options from their utilities, so when they become newly offered it is a key opportunity. Based on your experience, what type of messaging should utilities lean into when first approaching potential demand response customers-- highlight just the economic savings or is there impact in also mentioning environmental benefits, grid reliability, or other areas? 

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I have to agree with Mr. Philip.  A customer's engagement in any product or service is based upon their unique 'why'.  Are they seeking a means to reduce in overhead costs?  Do they have environmental goals they are seeking to achieve?  Are they simply optimization jockeys? 

From this customer's perspective: the best response to utilities who are encouraging their customers to sign up for a demand-response program would be: "Since when has providing reliable electricity been the responsibility of a utility's customers? Will we next be encouraged to buy diesel generators, so we can help ease the strain on the grid on hot summer days? Get your act together! Where's all the extra money we're paying for electricity going...into your executives' pockets?"

I have a slightly tongue in cheek response to this question, but I would say the best messaging approach to engaging customers to enroll in DR and Load Management would be "All Ways."  

 

So, slightly tongue in cheek, but we advocate for a "channel of choice" approach to all customer messaging.  Some customers prefer legacy channels like morning radio, bill inserts or US Mail.  Other customers prefer email outreach, or respond better to SMS messaging.  There's no best message channel or approach for all customers, only a range of approaches to appeal to all segments or groups of customers in your customer base.

 

 In a more direct response, we've found success with a multi-channel approach that supports virtually all customers.  First, be certain that the information about DR programs, for example, is easy to find and easy to understand on your website, as well as by calling customer service.  Best option is for your website to offer easy online enrollment, but if that's not possible, a toll free number connecting customers to specially trained CSRs should be prominent on all media including your website.  You want to be prepared for your outreach approach to yield a lot of customer interest, so be sure DR enrollment can be facilitated before you send your messages.

 

Consider a multi-channel approach that sends messages that are personalized and relevant from the customer's perspective.  For example, a tech savvy customer may respond best to a text message about taking control of energy management and getting the full smart features of their smart thermostat, while an aging in place customer would be more likely to be living on a fixed income and engage from a printed bill insert message about the potential to lower their utility bills or benefit from off-peak rate shifts.

 

Consider using an informational survey to build awareness and solicit interest in a DR or load management program.  Invitations to take the survey can be sent via email, SMS, social media, even US Mail (just include a QR code or invite code), and the informational nature of the survey means that utilities can usually send to all of their customers without worrying about opt-in concerns.  A short survey describing the program and asking questions about interest leads to a clear customer segment will likely interest.

 

Further, responses from that survey quickly help Utilities build look-alike audiences in their database.  Analysis of customers expressing interest in DR, for example, can reveal other customer groups or personas likely to have interest, and each of those groups has a more likely engagement channel or messaging approach to inform future campaigns.  Tech Savvy Millennials and Gen Z have greater affinity for digital messages directly to their phones, while Boomers prefer print, radio, and email.  Gen X, frustratingly, lives between tech-generations, which can make finding the best messaging channel more challenging.

 

Multi-channel approaches that begin with customer personas in mind typically yield better engagement results, as customers want personalized, relevant and timely communication from their utility in their channel of choice.  Lacking a comprehensive outreach segmentation model for your entire customer base, start with a survey to gauge potential interest and build on that data as better insights reveal themselves.

 

Good luck.  We know how important smart capabilities like load management are to both utilities and their customers.  Finding the best path to customer engagement on these programs needs to be a priority for everyone.

I was taught that the first rule of marketing is "know thy customer." Using this lens, my initial answer is, "it depends on your audience." There are customers who care a lot about bill savings, others who have a strong "green" motivation, others who want to be part of the effort to improve electric reliability, and still others who respond to the concept of reducing overall power costs. In my experience, it is rare that a customer will have only "one" driver motivating them to participate in their utility’s LM/DR programs. As a result, all customers benefit from receiving a short, easy-to-understand explanation of the LM/DR opportunity, and a clear statement of the benefits they will receive by participating.

Historically, demand response programs have provided customers with bill savings in exchange for taking actions they would not have chosen otherwise. Whether that’s asking a customer to temporarily reduce air conditioning usage during the hottest day of the year, to defer charging a battery, or to shut down part of a manufacturing process, customers need and deserve to know there are important and valid reasons for these requests. Monetary incentives get people's attention, but context is critical for driving sustained action. Demand response programs are about ongoing participation and hence, they depend on building strong customer relationships. This can be a different experience for utilities, especially if they are used to traditional energy efficiency programs which tend to be more transactional in nature.

Without good information about an individual customer or customer segment and their buying motivations, if choosing only one approach for a utility to lean into, I would recommend leading with bill savings. That’s something everyone understands and appreciates. However, over time, I would also alternate the monetary savings message with other key messages including environmental benefits and electric reliability / resilience to explain the purpose of the utility’s DR program. At the end of the day, the most effective approach to building good customer relationships is to have quality market research with which to directly target customer needs, based on their personas or buying profiles.

 

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