Many U.S. customers have no choice in selecting their electricity or natural gas provider. But that doesn’t mean customer satisfaction doesn’t have a major effect on the bottom line for utilities. State utility commissions often use customer satisfaction scores as a determining factor during rate cases, as well as other investment project filings. In addition, customer satisfaction scores can also impact things like credit ratings and stock prices for energy companies.
Many of the elements that affect these scores, such as pricing and customer service, are outside the energy marketer’s sphere of influence. But there are still steps that can be taken to improve scores as well as customer experience.
Know how you stack up.
For many companies in the industry, J.D. Power is still the North Star for determining how customers view them in comparison to other energy companies in their region. Six key indexes are used to determine a J.D. Power score: quality and reliability, billing, price, corporate citizenship, communications and customer service. Whether a company uses J.D. Power or another source of third-party research, the important thing is to have an ongoing strategy for measuring how the public sees the brand across different categories, so they can focus communications on areas in which they may be falling behind. Given the importance of day-to-day customer experiences on brand perception, it’s critical that marketing and customer experience teams collaborate on how best to develop communication strategies that hit upon all touchpoints.
Uncover stories that matter.
Utilities can be extremely siloed. There’s a safety team, a customer experience team, an efficiency team, a sustainability team, and on and on. The marketing department should not leave the communications about their company’s programs up to those departments without coordination. Energy marketers need to break down the walls to tease out the stories that truly resonate and can make a difference in perception.
Corporate citizenship is an example of the type of story that can help the tide rise across many different indexes and impacts. How active is the company in the community? What are they doing from a volunteer perspective? Sharing stories of corporate involvement in the neighborhoods where their customers work, live and play can influence the collective notion of what the brand stands for.
Individual employee stories are another example. The lineman who started a youth soccer league. The billing analyst who sends care packages to soldiers. There are generous, passionate people inside every organization, and bringing their stories to light can make it easier for customers to relate to a faceless energy company.
Even on the touchy subject of cost, companies can educate their customers about bill assistance programs and energy-efficiency initiatives that can help control their bills. It’s all about finding the people and programs that can create a stronger connection to the brand, then making sure as many customers as possible hear about them.
Amplify the positivity.
Having a measurable impact on customer satisfaction may require going beyond owned communication channels such as customer newsletters or billing statements. Email lists represent less than half of the customer base for some utilities. Organic social media posts often reach less than 1%. Because of this, energy marketers should consider amplifying their messages through earned media and paid channels such as broadcast radio, streaming video and social media paid channels to truly move the needle.
There’s no silver bullet for increasing scores, and it’s important to think holistically about all areas of communication while focusing on those that could use the most improvement. However, in working with both government energy authorities and energy companies of all sizes, we’ve found that following the steps outlined above can go a long way toward enhancing brand perceptions.