Five tips to engage utility customers (from a former Disney executive!)

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It is so, so important that utilities learn how to proactively engage with their customers. For the success of demand response and energy efficiency. For better relationships with regulators and ratepayer advocates. To forestall "disintermediation" by companies such as Google, Comcast and EnerNOC, which want to become your customers' energy partners.

 

So I am pleased to pass along these tips from a gentleman who honed his consumer chops at one of the planet's pre-eminent consumer companies... Disney. - Jesse Berst

 

By Dean Schiller

 

Once upon a time, electric utilities and their customers lived in a world with little need to interact except over billing and power outages. Over the last few years, that has changed dramatically. Government mandates to reduce peak loads, modernize the grid and engage customers have utilities scrambling to become more dynamic and better support their customers’ lives.

 

Customer engagement is not just a valuable end in itself. It also serves as the engine for powerful demand response and energy efficiency programs. Yet consumers aren’t accustomed to building relationships with their power providers, beyond calling to dispute a bill or report an outage.

 

Solving the consumer conundrum

To solve this conundrum, utilities can benefit by learning from companies that have mastered consumer engagement — such as Disney. I spent years developing the technology that crafted iconic scenes in classic Disney movies including Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. That time gave me invaluable insights around how utilities can attract an audience with an engaging story, delight with awe-inspiring visuals and, in the end, inspire to action.

Here are five lessons CEIVA has incorporated from our Disney experience that are key to helping utilities engage with customers:

 

1.     Tell a story: Package energy data in a simple story by using language that consumers understand that relates those stories directly to their lives. Understanding how many dollars of energy a bedroom is using every day is more straightforward than grasping the concept of kilowatt-hours used per month for the entire house. Avoid industry jargon that will obscure your message. If your mom doesn’t know the word, you shouldn’t use it with customers. (Moms who work at utilities excepted.)

 

2.     Make it easy and fun: Presenting data in a clear, interesting manner is key to engaging customers. Entertaining messages and visuals create an enjoyable experience, drawing in customers to become invested in their energy use and thus far more likely to evolve their behavior over time. When the data is glanceable, respectful, and presented in a context that customers care about, customers will continue to invite it into their lives.