Utility Executives on Customer Education

So what do utility executives really think about residential customer education and engagement?

The answer can be found in Utility DIVE’s recently released “Utility Residential Customer Education” survey.  The study surveyed 144 utility executives throughout the US, and the results tell a remarkable story:

76% of utility executives said residential customer education is a higher priority than it was 10 years ago

Maybe this is the “glass-quarter-empty” view, but 24% of utilities aren’t making customer education a higher priority than it was ten years ago?  A decade ago only three states had Energy Efficiency Resource Standards (EERS) – in 2014 twenty four states had EERS, an eight-fold increase.  With the Clean Power Plan looming, it’s clear that utilities that haven’t already made customer education a top priority will face huge challenges when they try to meet their state’s EERS.

2% of utility executives said they’re doing a great job educating their customers

Keep this stat in mind as we explore some of the other results.

43% of utility executives said a lack of customer interest was their biggest problem for implementing effective education programs

35% of respondents said the biggest challenge to getting customers to save energy is that the customers don’t think their individual actions make a difference

These two points were lumped together for a reason – utility executives are actually placing the blame of ineffective customer education programs on their own customers!  If all the students in a class were consistently failing a test, the common thread would seem to lie with the teacher.

72% of utilities believe financial incentives are the best way to engage customers with their programs

Respondents believe emailed newsletters were the most effective communication tool to engage customers with their programs

Again, these two points were lumped together for a reason – a large majority of utility executives believe financial incentives and newsletters are the most effective strategies for customer engagement, though the same majority believes they’re not great at educating their customers.  Maybe we should try something else?

From the looks of this survey, utility executives do understand the ever-increasing importance to educate their customers about energy efficiency and demand management, but the strategies they’re employing are simply ineffective. It is obvious to any objective observer that the reason for the lack of participation among their customers is a lack of engagement (just try to think about the last time you thought about electricity beyond paying the bill), but that can’t possibly be the customer’s fault.  In order to change the status quo – in order to really transform the way people interact with their electricity – utilities have to get creative. Electricity providers must look outside their own isolated industry to see what other brands have been able to do to capture their customers’ attention, motivate their customers to engage with them, and increase customer satisfaction with their product.  If utility executives continue to do what other utility executives are doing and have been doing, the results for next year’s Residential Customer Education survey will likely be the same.

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