Every interaction with customers is a communications opportunity. Utilities show what they value—positively and negatively—when they communicate (or not) with customers. That includes verbal communications, such as advertisements and newsletters, as well as nonverbal communications such as the availability and understandability of customer programs.
Indeed, the pie chart in Figure 1, based on research conducted by psychologist Albert Mehrabian, shows that more than 90% of the meaning in a conversation is conveyed through nonverbal means. For companies that cannot communicate individually with each of their customers, this means that actions, such as offering customers ways to lower their utility bills, count far more than the words in an ad or a press release.
1. How meaning is conveyed. Source: Egan Energy Communications
Utility communicators and marketers have a unique challenge: connecting with (mainly residential) customers about a vital service that can’t be seen, touched, tasted, or otherwise experienced—except when the lights go out.
Reach Beyond Price
Consumers in restructured markets like Texas have one way—price—to assess the relative value of electric service. Utilities inside and outside restructured markets have offered “green” electricity for years. But for utilities and their regulators, the programs are generally, if not universally, unsatisfying.
Many utilities are using—or planning to use—price as both a carrot and stick in their efforts to change the way their customers use electricity. Lower your usage, or shift usage to off-peak periods, and you could lower your electric bill. Fail to do that and your electric bill will rise.
The problem with this approach is that positioning electric service as something painful to be minimized puts utilities—and their employees—in a lose-lose situation. Option A: Do things your way and get hammered. Option B: Do things our way and get hammered somewhat less.
That’s what happens when you position your service on price for a century. But there’s another approach that offers potentially high paybacks and low costs. It involves putting the “public” back in “public service.”