In recent years, energy providers have made considerable advancements in becoming more customer-centric in their products, operations and strategies, as is demonstrated by our recently announced Best Practices Award winners. However, this new customer-focused approach isn’t yet reaching all consumers.
According to the latest iteration of our “Consumer Pulse and Market Segmentation” survey, about 40 percent of U.S. residential energy customers still only engage periodically with their energy providers or in energy-efficient actions. On opposites sides of these “selectively engaged” consumers, there are the 15 percent of consumers that mostly prefer to be left alone by their energy providers and the 45 percent that fall into the always-engaged Green Champions segment, consumers who highly value smart energy technologies and the environmental benefits from them.
These Green Champions are also, for the most part, highly satisfied with their current electricity providers, and they’re already attentively looking out for the next program, service or technology that can help them become more energy efficient.
Hence, the “selectively engaged” consumers in the middle represent a significant, somewhat untapped opportunity for electricity providers that are interested in boosting engagement throughout their customer base. To better understand why and how these consumers engage in energy and to develop ways that electricity providers can better meet their unique needs, SECC recently published the “Consumer Values: Moving the Needle on Engagement” report, which was derived from an online survey of over 2,000 North American residential customers.
The consumer survey included questions regarding attitudes about energy usage, barriers to participating in utility offerings, values related to energy and experiences with home-improvement investments (including both energy-related and general upgrades). While the “selectively engaged” are not a monolithic group, the survey did reveal general attitudes and behaviors that can help in the understanding of this subset.
For instance, in contrast to the Green Champions, the “selectively engaged” consumers do not make a strong connection between home energy use and the environment, and they report being only moderately satisfied with their electricity providers. In addition, while these consumers tend to have average or slightly below-average household incomes, they do not consider their energy bills to be a pressing issues in their lives.
Again, unlike the digital-minded Green Champions, this subset of consumers prefers to visit brick-and-mortar stores for information on energy-related upgrades and generally doesn’t think to involve their electricity providers when making upgrades. Finally, “selectively engaged” consumers cite “keeping utility bills low” as the most important benefit that energy stakeholders can offer them.
With these insights in mind, how can electricity providers and other industry stakeholders more effectively meet the unique needs and wants of these consumers and “move the needle on engagement”?
In the “Consumer Values” report, we envisioned each consumer’s relationship with their electricity provider as an energy-engagement journey and categorized recommendations based on the specific energy-related actions that consumers have or have not taken. By re-sorting the respondents based on the value of the actions they took, we developed three categories of consumers:
- The “on the couch” consumers who had made no energy-related upgrades.
- The “first stepper” consumers who had invested in home maintenance types of upgrades (lighting, a water heater, new windows or a new roof).
- The “energy investor” consumers who took multiple small actions or installed one or more significant energy-related measure (solar, a smart thermostat, a new HVAC system, a new appliance or insulation).
We found that comparing respondents in this way provided solid, actionable insights to help stakeholders engage consumers regardless of where they may be on their engagement journey, and in the report, we offer suggestions for program design, education, outreach and service opportunities to reach consumers at each step of this engagement journey.
For example, for consumers who have yet to get “off the couch”, a simple LED bulb can be a first step toward consumer engagement and empowerment, and electricity providers can provide lighting buy-down or free lighting kit programs to make this energy-efficient action easy and barrier free. Online billing is another way to encourage consumers to start their energy-engagement journey, since it’s a recurring touchpoint where simple click-through information and personalized tips can be delivered with the monthly bill.
After consumers take an initial step on their engagement journey, basic satisfaction and exposure to energy-related education and offers are no longer enough to answer the questions consumers have when they consider a more significant energy-related upgrade. Stakeholders need to meet the consumer where they are with the financial tools necessary to make a larger investment, presented in the context of its impact on their energy usage and how it addresses their energy values. This could take the form of on-bill financing that removes the upfront cost barrier for consumers taking their first big step or in-store marketing that alerts consumers of rebates or other available offers at the point of purchase.
Collectively, “selectively engaged” consumers can prove to be a somewhat “picky” subset of customers, but regardless, the financial, environmental and security benefits of energy programs and investments are important to them. By providing personalized outreach and offerings that focus on their specific needs and wants, electricity providers can motivate the “selectively engaged” to progress along their energy-engagement journey, thereby increasing customer satisfaction.