Utility Customers Agree the Climate Is Changing—Just Don’t Call It “Climate Change”

Utility Customers Agree the Climate Is Changing—Just Don’t Call It “Climate Change”

“What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”
Henry David Thoreau  

This month we are celebrating Earth Day with our annual designation of Environmental Champions for those utilities whose customers say their utility has exhibited dedication to the environment in our Utility Trusted Brand & Customer Engagement study. What struck me most about this year’s findings is that customers think environmental improvements are a better investment and are not opposed to a utility rate increases related to such endeavors, at least more so than for improvements in reliability or service.

Why Environmental Improvements Have Become More Important Than Reliability and Service

Geography and phrasing play a major role in how customers perceive the need for environmental improvements. As part of our energy industry research on environmental sentiment, we find that utility customers agree the climate is changing. In fact, opinions on climate change among the 16,000 national interviews we recently conducted show consumer sentiment at 70% agreement that climate change is a real issue. But there is a vast difference on sentiment across utility markets, ranging from 50% to 87% agreement. This means that some utilities have customers who somewhat agree with the scientific consensus while others have customers who strongly agree. Utility markets with the strongest sentiment (75% or more agreement) are:

Ameren Missouri
Austin Energy
Con Edison
Duquesne Light Company
El Paso Electric
National Grid
NW Natural
Philadelphia Gas Works
Portland General Electric
Seattle City Light
Tucson Electric Power
Washington Gas
Xcel Energy – West

These utilities tend to have the greatest concentration of our “Environmentally Focused” customer segment and should pay particular attention to how their environmental actions and communication are perceived in the market. At the same time, there are definite regional differences and each utility will need to gauge how receptive its customers are to its environmental positioning.

Use the Right Language to Better Position Your Utility

Phrasing, or how utilities talk about their environmental efforts, is particularly important when communicating with your customers. While there is a growing sense that utilities need to be great at environmental stewardship as well as agreement that climate change is happening, only 5% of utility customers say the phrase “climate change” is effective at building support for utility environmental programs. The phrases that are most favorable to building support? “Clean energy” (23%) and “renewable energy” (20%).

How Much Responsibility Do Utilities Own?

The good news: our study data from our brand research say utilities don’t need to own the entirety of the environmental issue, but they do need to do their part. Utilities should focus their efforts and communication on core business improvements that lead to the environmental benefits that matter to their particular customer base. Contact me if you would like to discuss how your utility can improve your environmental reputation.

Find out which utilities have been designated 2018 Environmental Champions.

View the Utility Environmental Champions

Why Energy Utilities Need to Turn Their Attention to Brand Appeal

Why Energy Utilities Need to Turn Their Attention to Brand Appeal

“Signs and symbols rule the world”

Brand Appeal measures customers’ positive feelings for a company based upon the claims and visuals the company has created to establish a unique market position. The brand equity that companies evoke in customers’ minds relate to added pricing power and preferred provider status. The first quarter of the 2018 Utility Trusted Brand & Customer Engagement™: Residential (UTBCE) study results are out and a new finding highlights 131 utilities’ Brand Appeal with their respective residential customers.

Brand Appeal Is in the Eyes of the Customer

Establishing high Brand Appeal enables utilities to engineer customer support and loyalty using design and color to shape a unique impression in customers’ minds. By asking respondents to rate their utility’s visuals such as logos and slogans, the UTBCE study has identified the utilities that have created the most appealing customer value propositions. Six utility brands rise to the top with a brand that invokes a high level of customer appeal. As utility customers select who they want to do business with, these six utilities are the likely winners with great brand equity and considered significantly more “ideal” than any other utility.

While many of the six most appealing brands do not have industry-leading operational or service metrics, one in four of their customers value his or her utility’s product endorsement, compared with just one in six for the industry. What’s more, over half of the most appealing utility brands’ customers say they are likely to recommend utility product offerings to other customers.

The implications of Brand Appeal are revolutionary for the industry: the utilities that can generate high brand appeal will position themselves with higher brand trust and offering adoption among customers.

Top 6 Most Appealing Utility Brands

The Relationship between Brand Appeal and Customer Trust

If you have ever needed to increase rates, you know what a difficult public relations challenge this can be. The six most appealing utility brands score above industry average on future rate support. In fact, these utility brands have a 13% higher level of customer “trust [in utility] to set fair and reasonable rates.” In other words, appealing brands get the benefit of the doubt with customers. So, a recognizable and appealing brand is essential to building customer trust. This is important, as the phrase “customer trust” is now part of the mission statement for almost every utility. The brand research results below shows the impact that creating an appealing utility brand has on building customer trust (scores are based on a 1,000-point scale).

As there is a significant 234-point difference between the most and least appealing brands, many utilities have a lot of work to do to increase brand appeal.

How to Build Brand Appeal

As utilities work toward establishing a stronger foothold among their customers in order to compete with disruptive forces such as Tesla, Apple and Google, building Brand Appeal can be a major differentiator.

Five Ways to Build Brand Appeal

  1. Consistently represent logos and slogans on all customer-facing media
  2. Select color schemes and visuals that appeal to your customers
  3. Develop a market value proposition (different from your corporate stakeholder commitment) that your customers can relate to
  4. Develop a slogan that reflects your market value proposition
  5. Ensure that the signs, symbols and claims your company develops reflect your market value proposition

Building Brand Appeal is one part of the larger strategy to positively position utilities for the future. Enlisting the right team with the right tools and expertise will make a difference in creating a stronger brand to survive. Contact me if you would like to explore how you can improve your Brand Appeal.

Review the details on the Utility Trusted Brand & Customer Engagement: Residential Study

Dear Energy Santa: Make Sure You’re Connected

Dear Energy Santa: Make Sure You’re Connected

The Internet of Things (IoT) is catapulting the energy industry into a new era of products and services, and the demands and expectations of utilities are rapidly changing. According to the IDC, energy utilities are currently the third largest investor in IoT ($66 billion) and this will alter how these companies interact with their customers. As an 80’s kid, I am reminded of a memorable song by Stereo MCs entitled Connected. The song’s chorus goes:

If you make sure you’re connected,
The writing’s on the wall,
But if your mind’s neglected,
Stumble you might fall…

More than ever, our connections with people, places and things drive and define who we are and what we do. These connections are directly impacted by the IoT explosion across our society. Back in 2008, more “things” were already connected to the internet than there were people in the world, and the momentum of this trend has multiplied over the past 10 years.
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An Alternative Solution to Market Research Panels and Online Communities

An Alternative Solution to Market Research Panels and Online CommunitiesWe live in a world where consumer data are growing rapidly. Nearly every behavior on the internet is tracked, wireless devices constantly share our location and activities, and smart appliances disseminate troves of data into the ether. And, by some accounts, global data are expected to double every two years for at least a decade.

While this is not a new phenomenon, the impact is still hard to understand. Thanks to this explosion of data, many energy utilities have access to exponentially more customer information than just a few years ago, and this information is often used ineffectively, and in some cases, not used at all. From detailed demographic and profiling data, program participation histories, and rich behavioral data, the opportunities for market research insights are immense.

It’s no wonder that many utilities are looking to leverage these data to build custom online panels and Market Research Online Communities (MROCs) to support their research needs. Both offer a means of gaining quick and valuable insights without having to negotiate some of the more challenging aspects of market research, namely, sample preparation and respondent recruitment. Continue reading

Why Do Regulated Utilities Care About Their Brand?

Why Do Regulated Utilities Care About Their Brand?At Market Strategies, we’ve recently seen an uptick in utilities wanting to better define and manage their brand. I recently sat down with Claire Maglione, New Jersey Natural Gas’ (NJNG) manager of customer experience, to discuss how they’ve approached their brand work and why it’s important even for a regulated utility like NJNG. Below is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

Why is brand important to a regulated utility like New Jersey Natural Gas?

Claire MaglioneClaire: Typically, a company uses a brand to differentiate itself from competitors. For most energy utility companies, that doesn’t necessarily hold true. In our service territory, customers can choose their natural gas supplier, so in that sense there is competition, but they cannot choose the company who delivers it. For NJNG, the importance of brand is a matter of being viewed as a trusted source: to safely and reliably provide natural gas to homes and businesses, enable customers to easily conduct business, educate customers on energy-efficiency, make products and services both affordable and available and be a good community partner.
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How Energy Marketplaces Give Utilities More Control

Does the average person shop for energy products through their utility? We know that customer preferences for shopping, particularly for Millennials and Gen Xers, is shifting toward online or mobile phone and away from traditional “brick and mortar” stores—51% of Americans think shopping online is the best way to shop (source: Big Commerce). But, how does that translate for utilities? Consumers embrace new products, adapt to new services more quickly and spend significant time researching and comparing online shopping options prior to making purchases. Product reviews and word-of-mouth opinions carry more weight than ever, and visual representations including product displays are expected to “come alive” during the purchase process. Such changing consumer behavior requires that traditional marketing tactics evolve to meet these shifting consumer demands, and utilities are not the exception. Continue reading

How Sustainable Is Your Environmental Brand?

How Sustainable Is Your Environmental Brand?

Recently, we announced our 2017 Environmental Champions to highlight the utilities that have developed effective approaches and struck a chord with their customers who like to hear about the dedication of their utility to the environment. These utilities are, in turn, rewarded with high Brand Trust and Customer Satisfaction scores.

2017 Utility Environmental Champions_Residential

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Customers Don’t Trust Utilities’ Cybersecurity Efforts

Customers Don’t Trust Utilities’ Cybersecurity Efforts

The recent massive ransomware attack struck industries across the globe and exposed worrisome weaknesses in the computer defenses of even the most sophisticated international corporations. While there are no reports to date of utilities being struck by the WannaCry virus, consumers’ confidence in the ability of any organization to keep its system safe has been badly shaken.

Cybersecurity has long been on utility officials’ mind: The sniper attack at an electric substation and a holiday cyber-attack scare on an electric utility are a couple of events that keep cybersecurity on the forefront. So, the WannaCry incident serves not so much as a wake-up call as it is a confirmation of the urgency of guarding against cyber threats. But it’s also an opportunity to communicate with customers about what you are doing to protect against and prepare for such an attack.
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How Georgia Power Uses Research to Optimize Customer Experience

How Georgia Power Company Uses Research to Optimize Customer ExperienceI recently sat down Don Hodson, head of customer experience (CX) at Georgia Power (GPC), to discuss how GPC is maximizing the effectiveness of its CX program. For energy brands that are working hard to create a positive, seamless experience for its customers, Don’s insight might just spark an idea that can be applied to your company’s strategy. Enjoy!

Can you explain GPC’s customer experience goals and the specific issues you’re trying to solve with research insight?

Don Hodson, head of customer experience at Georgia PowerDon: Georgia Power has a strong reputation with our customers already so there is little value focusing on improving a customer sat score from 8.5 to 8.6. Rather, we look at all the interactions customers have with GPC—the channels they use, the issues they have—to identify where there are barriers to resolution or where we force them to make extra effort. Then we focus on how to mitigate those issues to reduce customer effort. Not only does this improve customer sat but, in many cases, it also identifies opportunities to decrease operational costs.

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Are Solar Roads Coming to Your Utility Territory?

solar-roadSolar roadways have captured the public’s imagination – see, for example, the viral “Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways” video produced by Solar Roadways and viewed more than 22 million times. And we certainly do use a lot of land for roads and parking lots – 61,000 square miles by some estimates. So why not use this space to also produce power?

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