2022 Outlook: Utility Customer Communications

image credit: Questline
Dave Reim's picture
President Questline Inc.

Dave Reim is a seasoned veteran in the energy utility industry with over 30 years of experience. As the current President and co-owner of Questline, Inc., Reim’s focus and knowledge resides...

  • Member since 2002
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  • Feb 3, 2022

2022 will be the year that major progress is achieved in customer experience enhancement. Utilities everywhere are diving into large communication projects, working to elevate their digital customer journeys.

CIS replacements and CRM upgrades

There is currently an unprecedented number of customer information system (CIS) replacements and customer relationship manager (CRM) software upgrades underway, evidenced by the number of replace/upgrade Request for Proposals from utilities. 

Energy providers are addressing aging and inefficient billing systems and related infrastructure. Equally compelling, these and related investments are focused on delivering a “360 Degree View of the Customer” – a comprehensive view of energy consumers that delivers an improved and more integrated customer experience. 

Some teams are still figuring out how to execute, manage, and optimize these technologies as part of the larger operating environment. The biggest hurdle we see is in resourcing a digitally savvy workforce with the expertise to operate and optimize these technologies to the utility’s customer engagement objectives. 

To effectively deliver targeted messages to the right customers at the right time, we are seeing utilities partnering with external customer engagement resources that have digital marketing, data, and automation expertise to make the most of their CIS/CRM investments.

Loosening regulatory grips on customer outreach and communication

We are seeing a liberalization of some regulatory rules around how energy providers reach and communicate with their customers – in both digital as well as paper channels.

“Paper” as a required channel for bill presentment, transactional and non-transaction purposes is being relaxed in many states.  Multiple utilities are running pilots to demonstrate that customer satisfaction (CSAT) is not affected with the elimination of paper bills and paper notifications.   The cost reduction from eliminating paper bills can be significant with some utilities reinvesting the dollars saved into community projects and potential rate reductions – both having a positive impact on CSAT scores.

We are also seeing an explosion in a willingness of many utilities to apply text/SMS in more notifications, outreach, and other non-transactional purposes – going beyond the level of regulatory risk that they were willing to take just a few years back.   

Larger focus on outage communication

Utilities are stepping up their outage management systems (OMS) and communication systems to provide targeted and tailored customer updates during an outage. The freak 2021 storm in Texas and the continuing global warming weather swings have caused more utilities to invest in OMS technologies, two-way text, integrated content, and other digital channels and safety resources.  

Some utilities learned the hard way that there can be deliverability issues when you begin sending email messages or text alerts to thousands of customers at once. Your utility can be blacklisted for spam or messages can be drastically delayed. Taking the proper steps to warm up your digital channels and clear the way for mass communication is essential.

Utilities embrace being marketers

Energy providers are going beyond communicating with their customers by engaging with them using the strategies, tactics, and approaches that the best brand marketers are applying – with the goal of truly being their customers’ energy partner.

Utility marketers are applying digital engagement tools to entertain, educate, communicate and ultimately sell to customers. They are using more video, digital ads and channels like TikTok. 

No longer do customers only expect to hear from their utility during an outage or payment period. With enhanced communications, energy utilities are becoming more ingrained with customers’ daily lives.

Time of Use (TOU) rates and Demand Response (DR) programs

There were numerous new rates and associated programs developed and rolled across a multitude of Questline utility clients in 2021 – many resulting from FERC Order 2222 – most with the goal of empowering the consumer.  

In 2022, we see that the goals for these new rates and associated programs are demanding a consumer that is informed, engaged and understands these complicated new concepts. That is, there has been an acknowledgement that innovative rate structures and customer-benefitting programs require significant communication and marketing efforts – strengths not typically associated with energy utilities but required for success.

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