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Welcome Brian Lindamood: New Expert in the Customer Care Community - [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Expert Interview]

Posted to Energy Central in the Customer Care Group

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Matt Chester's picture
Energy Analyst Chester Energy and Policy

Official Energy Central Community Manager of Generation and Energy Management Networks. Matt is an energy analyst in Orlando FL (by way of Washington DC) working as an independent energy...

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The relationship between utility and customer is becoming more engaging and direct than ever before. Gone are the days where the only times a customer interacted with their utility were during two unsavory events: paying the monthly bill and reporting power outages. Today, customers are engaged multiple times during the month to track their energy usage, learn about potential utility programs that can save them money, and even get involved as an energy generator themselves!

In this rapidly changing world of customer service for utilities, expertise is necessary to guide the ship to make sure utilities are still accomplishing job #1: keeping their customers happy and supplied with reliable and affordable energy.

To make sure Energy Central remains the best place for you to keep your finger on the pulse of the changing utility-customer dynamic, we continue to add thought leadership in the Customer Care Community to the Network of Experts. Today, I have the pleasure of introducing to you our latest Energy Central Expert with a focus on Customer Care: Brian Lindamood of Questline Inc.

Hoping to share what Brian will bring to the table as our latest official Customer Care expert, Brian was kind enough to spend some time allowing me to pepper him with questions on his experience, the utility industry today, and how the customer care area of utilities will continue to evolve as a part of the Energy Central Power Perspective ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series.’

Matt Chester: The goal of these interviews is to allow our members a real chance to get to know you and your expertise so they know what topics you’ll be ready to chime in on. So to start broadly, can you share a bit about the work you do today and the path that led you there?

Brian Lindamood: Questline builds strong digital relationships between energy utilities and their customers. I enjoy working closely with utilities to understand their challenges and goals, and then my team develops engagement strategies and creates content to strengthen those customer connections. We find that this content marketing approach not only leads to long-term customer satisfaction, it's also the best way to activate customers to participate in utility programs.

Before getting into the energy space, I had a long career in journalism as the editorial director for a number of magazines. Good journalism is all about building strong connections with readers through storytelling. It's really the same foundation as content marketing, we just didn't call it that at the time!

I was also in the driver's seat for the transition from print to digital journalism. I was an early advocate for websites, social media and mobile apps as those channels developed, and I'm still passionate about identifying and leveraging new platforms and emerging technologies. For example, we see a lot of potential for utilities to use interactive video content to reach today's customers whose favorite channels are YouTube, TikTok and videogames. It is critical to reach customers on their preferred platforms — not yours — so you have to understand what new channels your customers are using and how they like to use them.

 

MC: As someone working daily to improve the customer experience in utilities, what do you think is different about the customer today than a decade ago? And how must utilities adjust their practices to account for that?

BL: Customers expect to have a digital relationship with companies they deal with, including their energy provider. I would say this has accelerated even in the last year or two, not just the last decade. The fact is, the standards for effective digital relationships are being set by companies like Netflix, Amazon and Google. Your customers are also customers of those companies, and they expect the same level of engagement from you.

Energy utilities need to adjust how they think about customer relationships. It is not enough to just send customers a bill at the end of the month — even if you're sending a digital bill to an email address. It's not enough to wait until there's a service interruption and then send an outage alert. Can you imagine if Netflix only communicated with customers about service interruptions or rate increases? I get emails from Netflix all the time with movie recommendations and reminders to finish a series I started. They are continuously reaching out to make sure I'm enjoying their services.

Utilities can take the same approach. Engage with customers proactively and on a regular basis. Reach out with eNewsletters, social media or other content to offer advice, suggestions for using new technology or tips for saving money. Show customers how you can make their homes more comfortable. You want customers to see your utility as a trusted and supportive resource in their lives, the same way they see Netflix or Amazon.

 

MC: A lot of the work you do is on customer education. Is often customer education enough, or does it come with the understanding that it’s working in concert with other initiatives to benefit the customer? And how do those other initiatives fail when the education isn’t accompanying it?

BL: Our goal with content marketing is to inspire customers to take action, whether that's a behavioral change like smarter energy use or a direct conversion like signing up for a utility program. The educational component is important, of course, but in the end we need to make the connection from the content to your marketing objectives or program goals.

I do think it will be hard for utilities to reach their goals without educational content, especially when it comes to initiatives like AMI, time-of-use rates, demand response and other electrification-related programs. Not only are we introducing new technologies to customers, we're asking them to think about energy use in a totally different way. This is a paradigm shift from the customer's perspective. We have a lot of work to do to educate customers and help them see how these initiatives will improve their lives. Just asking them to sign up for a program without teaching them about the benefits is never going to work.

MC: When it comes to messaging for residential customers vs. small business owners vs. bigger commercial or industrial customers, how do you find it’s most important to tailor the messaging in order to achieve the end goals?

BL: When reaching out to any audience it's important to understand those customers' specific concerns and motivations and address them with relevant messages. Customers expect personalized communications these days — it’s table stakes for digital engagement — and they are not going to spend time with messages that don't speak to their interests.

For residential customers, that could include a number of motivations. Most people want to save money, so that should be part of efficiency-related messaging. Many customers are also interested in reducing their environmental impact, so a green message may be appropriate. Some customers are excited about high-tech smart home gadgets or high-performance EVs and cost isn't really a concern. It's important to understand which customer group you're addressing so you can craft the message appropriately.

Business customers are even more time-starved than residential customers — they will not bother with a message that's not relevant to them. We have found that industry-based segmentation is critical and even more important than the difference between a small and large business. Needless to say, the energy needs of a manufacturer are much different from a healthcare facility or a retailer and so on. To build engagement with these customers and ultimately to drive program participation your messages must address the specific concerns of each industry.

As an example, Questline's business eNewsletters that are segmented by industry achieve a 44% higher click-through rate than unsegmented newsletters. Business customers simply want to see relevant content for their industry and that's what they're engaging with.

 

MC: What’s the main takeaway you hope you can impart to the Energy Central community as our newest expert? What value do you hope to bring to the community?

BL: This is an exciting time for the energy industry. AMI, electrification and decarbonization are going to transform our communities and improve our customers' lives. We have a lot of work to do to educate customers about these things, but it's also fun and inspiring work.

I am passionate about connecting with customers, building engagement around these topics and showing them the exciting potential of a smarter energy future. I hope to bring that passion to the Energy Central community as well, and I look forward to learning from all of you and sharing new ideas about customer engagement and digital relationships.

 

MC: Well said, Brian. And we’re so excited to have you as an expert in our community!

BL: This has been a great discussion. Thank you for the opportunity. I have really enjoyed being part of the Energy Central community so far and I'm looking forward to many more great conversations like this.

______________________________________

Thanks to Brian Lindamood for joining me for this interview and for providing a wealth of insights an expertise to the Energy Central Community. You can trust that Brian will be available for you to reach out and connect, ask questions, and more as an Energy Central member, so be sure to make him feel welcome when you see him across the platform.

The other expert interviews that we’ve completed in this series can be read here, and if you are interested in becoming an expert then you can reach out to me or you can apply here.

Discussions

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RORY KEANE's picture
RORY KEANE on May 13, 2021

Matt & Brian, 

Wow! Great interview and discussion!

You hit the nail on the head, Brian. Engaging with customers is more critical than ever, especially with the demand for digital experiences. I love the details around segmenting customers, understanding each segment and topics relevant to them, and engaging with proactive and personalized content.

While it isn't easy to pivot, many utilities with illustrious satisfaction scores have continuous, iterative, and interactive conversations with their customers. Those conversations are focused on how the customer wants to be engaged - and the utilities are seeing dramatic improvements in marketing effectiveness and energy-efficient products relevant to them!

Thanks for sharing.

-Rory

Brian Lindamood's picture
Brian Lindamood on May 19, 2021

Thanks for the comment Rory! There's no doubt that it's an exciting time for utility marketers and customer engagement pros. Customers trust their energy providers -- there are unlimited opportunities to build on that trust and cement strong digital relationships with utility customers.

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