So let’s put this out there right up front: I’m not an economist. Or an accountant. And I’m an eternal optimist.
I’m also a student of human behavior. Beyond all the ads, marketing plans and research work we do at Shelton Group, at our core, we pay attention to what human beings think, believe and do…and what messaging might lead them to think, believe and do something different. So as I look at what’s happening with the economy, I see it through that lens. And I see two opportunities for our utility clients and the utility industry as a whole:
1) Many consumers are already scared/worried about their ability to pay their bills…and winter heating bills are just around the corner. Based on years of past behavior, they’ll get angry. They’ll blame the utility and blame the government. But the wise utility can use this moment as an opportunity to revinvent its relationship with customers and help them begin to better understand their own consumption and how that drives their monthly bill. Most consumers don’t see this. They don’t understand plug load, they think they’re already doing everything they can to conserve and believe, in short, “it’s not my fault.” Right now, they’re looking for solutions. Utilities can provide those in a way that subtly helps consumers take ownership. And that will give them a sense of control they’re desperately seeking right now…which will improve their feelings about their utilities and build better relationships.
2) For years the utility industry has been worried about what will happen when a large percentage of its work force retires. Though some utilities have worked diligently on recruiting a new work force, training programs for them and technology that makes all employees even more efficient, some have not. Some of those would-be-retirees may now decide to wait an extra year or two to retire. Not that this is something to be celebrated, mind you, it’s obviously very frustrating and scary for those involved. But, again, the wise utility will turn this into an opportunity to use those soon-to-retire employee as mentors and trainers, and use this time to beef up recruiting efforts and technology implementation. Thus, when the migration of Boomers from the utility work force begins to happen en masse, utilities will be ready and can continue to do what they do seamlessly.
Just two possible positive outcomes from the turmoil around us. Hopefully we’ll see even more good come from this situation in the long run.