Consumers have a tendency to think of their utility only when they have reasons to grumble: higher-than-expected bills, power outages, unhelpful customer service.
Last week, Lee Ann wrote about the changing needs of C&I utility customers and how innovative alternative business models and offerings can help utilities ensure their continuing relevancy. Here’s a B2C angle on the benefits of innovation for utilities: When you create a culture of innovation at your utility, you give your customers a positive reason to think about you more often.
Customers like knowing that their utility is doing things to help the environment, to help them save energy and money, and to keep them apprised of new technology that will do any of these things.
- In Utility Pulse 2013, 60 percent of respondents said it’s important to them that their utility use renewable resources, and while only about half classified their utility as environmentally responsible, people who were more satisfied with their utility tended to hold that opinion.
- The development of more renewable energy is the number one national energy issue on consumers’ minds, according to our Energy Pulse 2013 survey – outranking development of more domestic oil and natural gas sources.
- Many of your greener customers who care about energy conservation and renewables are also early adopters of new technology. They value all three things – and they want to support companies that match their own values.
Obviously, reliable power is what keeps your customers the happiest, but it won’t keep you on their minds; you’ll need to take a more innovative approach if you really want to connect with them. You can get a lot of PR leverage out of smart and sustainable investments or upgrades when you let customers know you’re keeping up with the times and insuring reliability in the future. It’s also a way to maintain a positive presence in local communities.
A few utilities around the country have learned the importance of innovation – Austin Energy, for example. Along with the energy efficiency programs and solar rebates it offers, this public utility works with the Austin Energy Green Building program and plays a major role in the aggressive Austin Climate Protection Plan, helping the city, for instance, to reach its goal of powering all municipal facilities with 100 percent renewable energy. They’ve won awards for their efforts over the years from the EPA, the Solar Electric Power Association and others.
Green Mountain Power in Vermont also prioritizes innovation and has made serious strides in recasting its corporate culture. Under CEO Mary Powell’s leadership, the company has branched out into wind, solar and even agricultural methane capture (an unusual yet culturally relevant energy source for the surrounding communities). It’s also educating communities at the Renewable Education Center and providing comprehensive home energy services through the eHome program.
Dorothy Schnure, corporate spokesperson for GMP, says that the company has received positive feedback about these efforts, which have helped GMP gain earned media and a constant local media presence. “We get a great amount of anecdotal feedback that people are appreciative of the way we look at the world. We’re very supportive of solar power and net metering, and people understand that’s very unusual,” says Schnure.
According to Schnure, GMP has high customer satisfaction, and GMP’s efforts have even made an impression outside of its service territory. “We’ve had some people from other utility companies tell us they wish they could have GMP,” Schnure says. “That means people see the good work we’re doing and appreciate that.”
All of these innovations have become part of the company’s image and part of how customers engage with energy issues. Together, they’re also one of the factors playing into GMP’s upcoming rate decrease. (And that will obviously be a customer satisfaction win.)
Millennial and GenX customers, in particular, are up to date on technology and cultural concerns – make sure they’re up to date on how innovative a utility can be, too. Give them a reason to believe you’re not their grandfather’s utility company and let your earned media tell your story of innovation and responsibility. When customers are receiving reliable power and they’re hearing about the good things you’re doing, it’s a recipe for satisfaction.
Sunflower and solar image from Vermont’s Sterling College via Flickr