How Digital Relationships Paid Off for Energy Providers During COVID-19
What is the value of a connected customer? During the initial months of the pandemic, Questline deployed more than 72 million COVID-19-related communications [link: https://www.questline.com/blog/covid-19-transformed-email-communications/ ] on behalf of energy utilities from across the U.S. The performance metrics from those sends revealed a lot about the successes they had in reaching #customers during a #crisis and delivering resources and program information quickly, effectively and economically.
COVID-19 as a Test Kitchen
For some of Questline’s 400+ #energy#utility clients, COVID-19 forced them — for the first time — to engage with customers in a digital channel. Or, it was their first-time engaging customers with a non-transactional objective (e.g. the messages were informational or educational, not promotional). For the balance of our energy utility clients, however, a regular cadence of customer communications was established long before the crisis. These utilities already had an ongoing, digital relationship with their customers, which we classify as “engaged customers.”
Six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, we have evaluated data from millions of digital communications deployed for our energy utility clients — both with and without engaged customers. The findings are dramatic:
Energy providers that had a base of engaged customers before the crisis registered a 53% higher rate of engagement with COVID-19 communications compared to utilities without engaged customer relationships.
What Do Engaged Customers Look Like?
Strong #customerrelationships are the foundation of successful communications. As the COVID-19 data illustrated, the investment that utilities make to engage with customers during “good times” really pays off during a crisis: When you need to get important information to customers, they are easy to reach and ready to listen.
Energy providers that don’t invest in engagement, on the other hand, find it harder to reach customers during a crisis. , We found many utilities simply unable – regardless of the resources thrown at the situation – to make customer connections because they had not yet laid the groundwork needed to reach them.
So, what does it take to build an ongoing digital relationship with customers? Engagement is created over time, by providing valuable information at key touchpoints during the customer journey. The relationship goes beyond promotions or transactional messages to include helpful, relevant content that interests the customer. This engaging content does not preclude program promotions, however. To the contrary, our performance metrics show that engaged customers click on promotions and other transactional messages at a much higher rate than unengaged customers. You can build a strong foundation of content engagement and increase revenue and program participation at the same time.
Reinforce Customer Resources When They’re Needed
Of course, strong customer relationships need to be established before a crisis, but customer engagement shouldn’t stop during emergencies. It’s actually an ideal time to provide customers with reassurances and resources. In times of hardship, customers want to hear from companies they trust, like their energy provider. Questline performance metrics show that marketing communications received unprecedented levels of engagement from May through July 2020 with promotional messages having significantly higher opens CTR reads, and fewer unsubscribing customers with these messages.
In particular, email newsletters were a strong channel of communication during the pandemic. Many energy utilities used eNewsletters to communicate their action plans and provide helpful resources to customers like home energy savings tips while working from home. eNewsletter readers are much more engaged with all types of energy utility communications compared to unengaged customers.
Many energy utilities have also focused on proactive communications to help customers facing financial hardship because of the pandemic. With nearly 30 million Americans currently unemployed, we recommend that energy utilities continue to reinforce the assistance tools and resources available, such as budget or level billing, online payment extensions and other financial assistance programs.
For example, one Questline client that had built an engaged customer base, a major investor-owned utility in the Southeast, sent a payment reminder email to explain its pandemic-related payment policies and options. This email, sent to more than 86,000 customers, experienced extraordinary engagement rates with a 41% open rate, 13% click-to-open rate and 5,850 total clicks.
With the right #digitalengagement strategy, energy utilities have the opportunity to develop a long-term relationship with customers that goes beyond a one-time transactional messages. As the coronavirus pandemic demonstrated, customer engagement comes into sharp focus during times of crisis. To better prepare for a future crisis, energy utilities should build strong digital relationships with their customers before they need to reach them.