Simple Energy’s 2015 Predictions

Across the utility industry, utilities are beginning to view customers as an essential business asset. As consumers educate themselves on the growing selection of energy options available to them – and as alternative energy solutions become more affordable – the utility industry has begun focusing on customer services to build greater consumer engagement and loyalty.

This isn’t an overnight solution, however. The poles and wires approach many utilities take today follows the same methods used 100 years ago. Current utility infrastructures are in need of an update to be more responsive to customers.

While utilities worldwide are working to further engage with their customers, 2015 will prove that utilities need to adopt a consumer focused delivery model in order to achieve this new type of customer-focused success. In order to sustain, utilities will need to redefine the energy experience for customers.

Prediction one: Utilities will expand digital offerings due to customer demand.

Due to increased differentiation in the market, utilities are going to have to keep up with non-traditional competitors, such as Nest, SolarCity and NRG energy. Customers are already used to a high level of digital service and user experience from other service providers (airlines, banks, credit cards, Amazon) and utilities are increasingly going to be held to the same standards. The New Energy Consumer, a 2014 Accenture report, noted that 65% of customers experienced challenges while using their utilities digital channels. There is room for great improvement and positive business impact by improving and expanding utility digital offerings.

Prediction two: Utilities will transition from paper mailings to delivering personalized, frequent digital messages. By straying from standard paper bills, utilities will reduce costs and create a more personalized, interactive experience with customers through digital and online communication. Utilities will still deliver traditional paper reports, but they will be used primarily to drive customers online to build engagement with the utility and raise awareness of the online tools. These tools include alerting customers of their energy consumption, educating them on how, why and what they consumed, how they can consume less and offering easy-to-understand communication to help it all make sense.

Prediction three: Utilities will increase the range of experiences for customers, straying from the one-size-fits-all model. Customers want personalized information, not generic alerts and communications. Utilities will begin offering this through data they already possess, converting consumer energy usage data into personalized energy-saving recommendations and tips that will help customers understand how energy-savings translate into money savings, based on their home.

Prediction four: Utilities will begin to offer additional products and services, positioning themselves as the energy resource hub for consumers.

“Instead of just recommending energy-efficient appliances, utilities will begin offering customer-specific smart thermostats, furnaces and other personalized energy products and providing e-commerce solutions to become the sole energy source for their customers.”

The battle over customer satisfaction will soon be mission critical to the success of utilities. In order to own the energy experience, utilities will assume further involvement, through increasing consumer awareness and enabling the purchase of energy-saving products, such as household appliances.

In order to keep up with this dynamic market, utilities need to look at home automation (Internet of Things), smart thermostats such as Nest, and new tech entrants as an opportunity to pioneer within the market.

Energy Efficiency Standards are demanding a higher accountability from products, making a mutually beneficial relationship between utility and consumer a reality. Utilities must begin building mutually-beneficial partnerships within their customer base and the industry to successfully become this sole, trusted energy resource for customers.

Why Personalization is Crucial for Customer Engagement

like“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”

This translated quote from Blaise Pascal reveals a couple of interesting things about the author. First he is familiar enough with the reader to know that the letter contains information irrelevant to him/her. Second, the author considers his time more valuable than that of the reader’s. Rather than re-draft a more concise and relevant letter, the author chooses to put the onus on the reader to pick out the meaningful bits.

The relationship between business and customer is not so different than that of author to reader. There is an inherent interdependence that has always existed, though not always appropriately valued.

When businesses communicate impersonally, it reflects a lack of value they have for their customers.

In our increasingly connected world, consumers are inundated with advertising, news, and various other forms of digital distraction. As a result, the attention span of a customer has dwindled to a few precious seconds spent glancing at an email subject line and 15 seconds or less scanning a website for useful information.

Every second a customer spends on a website hunting for a reason to stay brings them a second closer to leaving – abandoning your message, your site, or worse, your business altogether.

On the flip side, this connectedness means that we know so much more about our consumers than we ever have. When faced with the exceedingly challenging task of grabbing a consumers attention in an immediate gratification society, there’s hope!

Personalization can help us write a shorter letter.

Consumers value personalization. At Simple Energy, by simply promising a more personal experience in a recent subject line, we saw a 20% increase in email open rates. By introducing new individualized energy usage stats to our weekly communications, we provided better context for why the consumer should care about the featured content. As a result, we saw a jump of 23% in click-through rates.

These are just a few examples highlighting email communications. To get the full benefit, making good on the promise of personalization requires application throughout the entire customer experience.

At each touchpoint, we should answer the following:

Who is the audience?

What characteristics or behaviors best describe the customer(s)?

What do we want them to do/think/feel?

What result or action do you want your message to instigate?

Why will they care?

Why will this information will be valuable to the customers? Are there specific segments of customers that align to those value propositions?

How will they interact?

In what format or channel is this information most useful? At what time is it useful?

And don’t forget — admitting that not every message or experience will benefit every customer is half the battle.

Sometimes less…is a whole lot more.

3 ways to inspire customers to take energy-saving actions

At some point in our lives, we all need a little extra motivation. From running a marathon, to starting a company, or even getting out of bed some days, added motivation can be the driving force to helping you achieve your goals. However motivation is not one size fits all. Different people are motivated – and unmotivated – by different things. When it comes to finding the motivation to decrease energy consumption, it’s important to recognize that the same motivation driving one demographic to conserve energy may not be effective for everyone else.

A SmartGrid Consumer Collaborative webinar brief on the Motivations and Emotions of Engaged Customers revealed that high-engagement customers tend to be more future-focused for their motivations, while low-engagement customers tend to be more focused on the present. This means utilities must take a different approach to motivate and target the respective customer in order to get them to achieve the same result – conserve energy.

With so much information to their disposal, it can be hard for a consumer to separate the valuable content from the unnecessary fluff. That’s why utility providers need to help decipher customer energy consumption data, and provide suggestions and counsel on how customers can take energy conservation matters into their own hands. As a utility provider, here’s how to work with your customer to inspire energy-saving actions:

1. Deliver compelling content and personalized experiences to customers.

A customer doesn’t want to be seen as just an account number. They want to feel special, with individualized information tailored specifically for them. Implementing a one-size-fits-all strategy to deliver information may be efficient, but it’s not effective.

Sometimes, it’s not about delivering the information as much as it is providing it in a personalized, easy-to-understand way. When receiving targeted information, 80 percent of Simple Energy utility customers reported having a better understanding of their energy usage. Educating customers on their unique energy usage and how they can take action to save energy helps motivates them to make necessary changes and in turn, save money.

2. Focus on providing a range of experiences to motivate more of your customer base.

Delivering compelling data is a great first step in motivating customers to alter their energy usage. But sometimes it takes more to instill real – and lasting – change. Utilities can do this by translating usage data into things that more consumers will respond to, such as loyalty rewards, social leaderboards to compete against other customers, and badges to recognize positive behaviors.

By adding a loyalty component to engagement programs, utilities can further galvanize customers to adopt energy-saving behaviors and actions. These programs are incredibly effective in driving one-time actions at specific times, such as energy savings on peak load events. A Simple Energy program that offered day-of point increases for energy savings on peak event days saw energy savings upwards of 10 percent. It’s important to keep providing new and fresh experiences in order to keep your customer engaged over time, by rewarding them for staying committed to more efficient energy behavior.

3. Provide additional insight, products and services that customers want

In today’s world, customers demand more from their service providers, and that includes utilities. A study conducted by Delivering the New Energy Consumer Experience in 2013 found that 58 percent of customers want their utility to provide recommendations on energy saving goods. Customers want and expect energy advice and energy solutions from their utility provider.

One of the biggest ways utilities can do this is by providing energy-saving tips, such as upgrading out-of-date appliances in and around the home. For example – one of the biggest ways consumers can save energy at home is through an energy-efficient purchase – whether that be an appliance, LED light bulb or extra insulation. Providing value-added information creates a more motivated – and loyal customer.

It’s also crucial to stay in constant contact and top of mind with timely and relevant information. This includes providing recommendations for products and services during the moment the customer is thinking about their energy usage, such as recommending window seal treatments when the temperature starts to drop. And while many utilities currently do offer rebates and helpful information and educational programs for their customers, they aren’t communicating them effectively and/or frequently enough. A great, customer-friendly platform only works if the customer knows about it, allowing them to engage with the utility and build that brand loyalty.

While the responsibility to change ultimately falls on the customer, utilities can play a big role in helping motivate and elicit change. These tips can help customers make sense of their energy usage, take action to save more, and actually enjoy doing it, while building rapport beyond reports.

Recent Poll Reveals Overwhelming Support for Renewables in Western Mountain States

On February 7th, Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project released the results of their third annual “Conservation in the West Poll”. The poll was a bipartisan operation, pairing polling companies from both political parties to conduct a survey of 2400 westerners from six western states on their feelings towards energy and conservation policy.The overall findings suggested a disparity between public opinion and current policy decisions, which is something that campaigning politicians should pay close attention to.

Overall findings showed that 91% of those polled are in agreement that public lands are an essential part of their state’s economy, 79% believe that they significantly contribute to their quality of life, and the 71% adamantly oppose the sale of public land.

In the energy sector, opinion points overwhelmingly towards support for increased renewable investment. Solar energy investment was supported by 74% of those polled in Arizona and 56% in Colorado (where it tied with wind) and New Mexico.

We will be keeping an eye on how western politicians incorporate this poll data and we’ll be watching The President’s State of the Union Address tonight to hear what he has to say about national energy policy.

For more information about this poll and it’s results, check out this New York Times Green Blog article on the results, or see the raw data for yourself at the State of the Rockies Project‘s website.

Simple Energy expands to larger office space

This month, Simple Energy moved to a new office space in downtown Boulder, expanding into a larger space as the team continues to grow. With momentum building for several larger partnerships this year, the company is committed to continued support of a rapidly increasing organization, as well as providing additional space for other members of the local startup community. Continue reading

Simple Energy hires new COO Bud Vos, formerly of Comverge

Today in Boulder, Simple Energy announced that Bud Vos has joined the team as the company’s new chief operating officer, bringing over 15 years of experience driving rapid growth and innovative product strategy for leading smart grid companies. This strategic hire is the latest in a series of developments positioning Simple Energy to become an industry leader in utility customer engagement programs that leverage the power of behavioral economics and social networks to motivate energy savings. Continue reading

Smart grid study: reliability important to all consumers

A new consumer smart grid study sponsored by the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative found that across all customer segments, grid reliability is extremely important, with many consumers willing to pay extra every month in exchange for increased reliability. “A smart grid that senses problems and reroutes power automatically, preventing some outages and reducing the length of those that do occur was one such benefit, ranked as important to all consumers.” Continue reading

Proactively managing utility customer communications

While proactively managing communications with utility customers is especially important during a power outage, this forward-thinking approach to customer relations is something that utilities should always keep in mind. By making proactive communications a central part of the business strategy, utilities can improve their overall satisfaction rating and better manage the process when outages do occur. Finally, proactive communication is also important as customers increasingly compare their experience with their utility to that of other industries such as banking and entertainment. Continue reading

Meet your customers where they already are, and make it fun

Last week Simple Energy attended the E Source Utility Marketing Conference, where CEO Yoav Lurie presented with Sarah Hill of SDG&E about achieving customer engagement and energy efficiency results with social game mechanics. This presentation fit into two of the main themes of the conference on utility marketing programs: meet your customers where they are already spending time, in a social and fun online setting, and make the interaction simple and intuitive. Continue reading