In recent years, external forces – including advances in technology, the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation and climate change, to name a few – have had a tremendous effect on the energy industry and on energy consumers.
As the landscape continues to shift, presenting both opportunities and challenges for utilities and consumers alike, what does not change is the need for collaboration among all stakeholders in the energy industry and the consumers they serve. Understanding the needs and motivations of consumers and meeting them on their terms is the key to building the trusting relationships needed to cultivate informed, engaged consumers.
To help the industry align programs and services with consumer needs, the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC) recently published its “2023 State of the Consumer” report, which summarizes the findings of the SECC’s 2022 consumer research and synthesizes the insights that emerged from these studies. The report also incorporates research from other nonprofit organizations that follow energy consumer trends, namely the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and the National Energy Assistance Directors Association (NEADA).
Below are three recommendations from the new report that share how electricity providers can deepen the relationship with their residential customers in 2023 and beyond:
1. Build trust by segmenting your customer base.
What it takes to foster trust varies widely across segments; hence, a good first step is to ensure you are doing all you can to understand your customers. SECC’s members have access to the new segmentation study (published in August 2022) and can apply the new segmentation framework to their own customers to connect with them based on their values and behaviors.
In the absence of segmentation, one-size-fits-all messaging can erode trust by making customers feel like their energy provider is out of touch with their needs. In addition to using SECC’s segmentation framework, consider customer needs based on other factors, such as income level and whether they own or rent their homes.
In terms of energy efficiency programs, according to an ACEEE report featured in the “2023 State of the Consumer” report, “more effort is needed to engage local communities about their needs and how best to serve them. Such engagement will build interest and trust, ultimately making programs more successful at reaching the households they target.”
2. Alleviate barriers to energy efficiency for under-resourced households.
Although the start of 2023 was accompanied by a boost in U.S. consumer optimism amid signs of easing inflation, pessimism over the possibility of a recession lingered throughout the first quarter. One reason for the gloom is energy costs, which are expected to remain at record high levels throughout 2023. This makes energy efficiency programs that much more attractive and useful for consumers.
SECC’s research shows that consumers understand the importance of energy efficiency, but their motivations and preferences vary widely. They particularly need help evaluating their options and calculating the potential benefit. And many under-resourced households still face significant financial barriers to participating in energy efficiency and other programs.
Today’s consumers have more opportunities than ever before to participate in energy efficiency programs and leverage smart energy technologies, and SECC’s segmentation offers a useful tool to help match consumers with the programs most likely to interest and benefit them. In addition, utilities might consider how to make better use of data to personalize offers and communication, especially for the aforementioned under-resourced consumers.
3. Optimize the monthly electric bill as an education tool.
Consumers are accustomed to receiving information and offers tailored to their interests; however, many companies, including electricity providers, are still not using data analytics effectively to improve the customer experience. Considering the SECC’s research on rate plans and the bill, providers are missing opportunities to make the monthly bill work harder. It’s the one piece of communication guaranteed to get your customers’ attention every month.
Although they recognize its usefulness as a tool for monitoring their energy usage, most consumers don’t like opening their monthly bill, and they don’t understand it. However, it’s also the second-most preferred channel for customers wishing to receive new offers. When was the last time you invited your customers to provide input on the bill? What if, instead of frustrating your customers, the bill made their lives easier?
SECC’s recently research on bills and rate plans suggests that customers are interested in usage graphs, personalized information about what’s driving their usage and relevant ways to manage their consumption, such as energy efficiency programs and rebates for which they would qualify. Optimize the bill as a communications channel and help them save energy and access other programs that interest them or would otherwise benefit them.
As we move forward in the energy transition, there are many ways that electricity providers can continue to support their residential customers and deepen the customer relationship by better aligning programs, strategies and services with consumer needs. To learn more, download SECC’s “2023 State of the Consumer” report here.