Today’s energy customers demand highly personalized marketing messages — and they are willing to share their data to get them. With a renewed focus on personalization, utilities are taking a fresh look at onboarding and engagement strategies for new customers.
Consumers expect the businesses they buy from to recognize them as individuals and know their needs and interests. In fact, recent research from McKinsey found that 71% of consumers expect personalization from the businesses they interact with, from their favorite retailers to their energy providers.
First impressions matter
For energy utilities, the best time to capture critical data for effective personalized communications is at the beginning of the customer relationship. After all, welcome emails are among the most opened, with an average open rate of 60%.
Major brands like Amazon Prime leverage the power of welcome emails to convey their appreciation for new customers and introduce resources and services. They also utilize these onboarding messages to encourage customers to share their preferences and motivations. This feedback is used in future communications and personalized recommendations to deliver the best possible customer experience. Why shouldn’t utilities do the same?
To build long-term digital customer relationships, utilities across the country are employing a series of onboarding emails at the start of service. Questline Digital data has shown that customers who open a welcome email are 30% more likely to open future communications from their energy provider.
Entergy wows new customers
Entergy, an investor-owned utility serving 3 million customers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, was the first utility to implement an email welcome series. According to Sarah Sharp, Entergy’s manager of marketing and digital engagement, the series was launched as part of a customer experience journey experiment done back in 2012.
Entergy welcomes new customers with a series of five emails over a 10-week period. The email campaign provides useful information that aligns with a customer’s onboarding journey, including online account setup, payment and billing options, outage management tools and energy efficiency programs.
The pioneering campaign has evolved over the years as digital engagement tactics have changed. Entergy’s welcome series is becoming more focused on customer needs and interests, including self-service options. For example, the welcome series encourages customers to enroll in outage text alerts to receive information on their smartphone when an outage occurs. “Many customers have transitioned to self-serve and signed up for outage text alerts as a result of the welcome series emails,” says Sharp. “We’ve seen a significant reduction in calls to the customer service center as a result of the welcome series emails.”
Additionally, Entergy is now supplementing its welcome messages with educational videos to help customers sign up for their online account, learn about smart meters and better understand their energy usage.
“Customers can access videos that provide tips for using their smart meter to manage and monitor their energy usage,” Sharp says. “They can also set up their account to receive alerts when they exceed costs or usage based on their preferences.”
Personalizing the onboarding experience
Seeing success from welcome efforts, utilities are exploring how to maximize these interactions. With new customer demands for personalized experiences, utilities are realizing that the welcome series is an untapped opportunity.
“Historically, the messages delivered in utility welcome emails have been top-down — utilities determined what information they wanted to share,” says Brian Lindamood, Vice President of Marketing and Content Strategy at Questline Digital. “Now, it’s more important to listen to customers and respond to their needs. And the first interactions of a welcome campaign are the best times to listen and capture information about customer preferences that will be valuable throughout the relationship.”
An effective utility welcome series can glean customer interests in solar energy, electric vehicles, energy efficiency and other important topics. It can also gather information about the communication channels they prefer — email, snail mail or text.
“This is the kind of information that can be used to tailor future communications or to target program promotions,” Lindamood continues. “Taking the time to listen to customers and learn about their preferences and motivations can result in much more meaningful interactions for years to come.”
The future of customer communications
As the need for personalized digital engagement continues to grow, utility marketers will be relying on the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning. These algorithms and predictive analytics will be used to optimize campaigns and deliver uniquely relevant messages to each customer.
“Machine learning and AI can help us understand individual customer interests and motivations,” Lindamood says. “It can help us respond to even subtle variations in preferences among customers and build the messages that each segment — or each customer — would be most responsive to.”
While energy usage, digital engagement behavior, customer preferences and other data can all be used to develop robust customer profiles, many utilities continue to work on legacy platforms that are often not compatible with the latest marketing communications tools.
“Many utilities are working to get all that data in one place and in a standardized format that’s usable, but it is a time-consuming effort,” Lindamood adds. “With a welcome campaign you get a clean start with new customers. You can gather the data you need upfront. Listening to customer preferences at the beginning of service is the best way to ensure meaningful relationships between utilities and their customers for years to come.”