The empowerment of consumers through digital channels continues forcing us all to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask just how are we adopting. Even in the communications business—where building relationships and conversations in the digital space is our job—we have to adjust to a world where consumers have the power.
Rare is the industry more acutely affected by this cultural shift than the energy utility industry. Fret not, we have some simple strategies to turn your customers heads, and have them thinking twice about how they value the relationship with their energy provider.
Start with a mandate to be unexpected. Follow up with happiness. We’re not talking about an overhaul of your communications strategy. We’re talking about the little things. Be ready with a quip. Jump into conversations in relevant ways. Discuss what’s relevant to your customers with honesty, integrity and respect. It demonstrates that as a company, you’re paying attention. Have a personality consistent you’re your brand image. Directly engage users who genuinely engage you where they are. Parody equals personal. Regardless of the platform, if people are taking the time to adopt recreate, or even recreate your message—even in jest—you’re getting through. Acknowledge the good ones. Any other customers paying attention are. Personalizing a social response with an electricity pun as pithy as the title of this article or responding with genuine empathy imparting can go a long way toward imparting some humanity along with a smile.
First and foremost you provide a vital service that people rely on. Always remember that. There will be times when people just want to pay their bill and to hell with your pithy pun. Make it easy. Have the data that demonstrates the shortest path between intent and action for your customers. If they want to pay their bill, make it a big, fat button on your home page. Encourage it. There’s an unsaid understanding that you know what they want, which builds trust. So, when you’re talking about a complex rebate program, or selling renewables, that trust will prove critical. As will a proactive approach to outages and edge-cases. Any kind of disruption to routine service is by far-far-far-far-best coming from you. Even if you don’t know what the problem is, demonstrate that you acknowledge there could possibly be one. Demonstrating that real time understanding of a customer’s predicament is reassuring. Which brings us to the next strategy.
To tie up the first two strategies in a nice little bow, real time is crucial for success in building relationships in the digital space. Timeliness is as important as content. Both must be right, sure, but there’s no substitute for responsiveness. Even if you don’t have the answers, acknowledge the question. Let people know you’re working on it. But then work on it. Follow through. Provide updates if questions linger. Real time is also where almost all of the social and digital wins come from. Often, this means empowering social media managers or agency partners to jump in, participation without deliberation. Digital is often a world unencumbered by committees. Just like this win couldn’t have happened without trust that people were participating in the best interest of their employer and livelihood.
In today’s world, community is truly an idea. Nothing binds people together more than something they believe in. Not only a set of customers bound by a jurisdiction and an energy grid. This can be a tremendously empowering thought to an energy provider. Stand for something. You may discover fans and friends in places you never thought of. Digital can bring those people together. Engage like-minded users with your ideas. Give them kudos for theirs. Share the discourse with your customers. Open and free dialogue is a core underpinning of successful relationships, online or in life. With the movement toward de-regulation and pressures from outside competitors beating down the barriers to entry, this is a great way to operate from position of strength. Find your truth and embrace it. Then be open to those that come your way. There’s a reason they are here. They’ll be your greatest advocates. Even if not all of them are your customers.
All of this leads to the greatest truth—using digital to communicate is about the users, your customers, not your company. Placing them at the center of your attention, focus, strategies and best practices will pay off. We live in a consumer-centric world, whether we like it or not. The only real question we face as we look in that mirror is, will we act like it?