How to Communicate with Utility Customers When It Matters Most

by | May 24, 2021

Providing Utility Customers with Agile Post-COVID-19 Communications That Add Value

The past year and a half have presented utility customers with unprecedented challenges due to COVID-19. Economic turmoil led to bills remaining unpaid, utilities ceasing shutoffs, and more.

However, the world finally appears on the precipice of normality once again. But the transition back to normal will not be the flip of a switch. For utilities the coming weeks and months will represent a critical time in terms of how they communicate with utility customers.

At the peak of the pandemic, U.S. utilities largely stopped sending communications like collections and shut-off notices. But these communications are getting turned back on.

The community-focused utility must take advantage of this opportunity to communicate compassionately but also effectively, to help its customers through this transition.

Post-COVID-19 Communications to Keep in Mind

With workers sent home and stuck without an option to earn a living, many Americans needed multiple lifelines to be sent their way. From the utility perspective, the best way to help was to eliminate collections notices, shutoff warnings, and similar economic stressors.

Utility shutoff moratoriums aren’t uncommon. The availability of energy is necessary for public safety during bitter winter months, even when people have amassed debts with the utility companies that they aren’t in a position to pay off.

During the pandemic, ensuring people could retain power was even more important, especially as work went digital, schools operated remotely, and people quarantined at home.

According to NEADA, in July 2020 over half of customers were protected by COVID-19 shutoff moratoriums. By April 2021, that figure had dropped to 33%. Similarly, most states have seen their moratoriums expire or shift to voluntary status, according to NARUC:

The transition of re-establishing past due and utility shutoff notices will be jarring to many households, so it’s important for utilities to be:

  1. thorough in explaining the situation
  2. empathetic in how the transition is handled
  3. proactive in finding ways to work with, not against, customers

For example, when sending the first past due notice in more than a year, utilities should include the following:

  • Attach all necessary payment plan options,
  • Explain how to make the necessary arrangements to pay the debt and avoid shutoff,
  • Include options for contacting the utility to discuss what is understandably a stressful event

Ensuring These Post-COVID-19 Utility Communications are Agile

Just as importantly, utilities must use all the tools they have to ensure these post-COVID-19 communications are agile.

Inventory of Communications

First, start by evaluating where you stand today. Doing so requires a thorough inventory of all communications, content themes, and delivery methods currently in use and actively planned.

This process will help you accurately identify communications that need to be reviewed and refreshed considering this new world we’re facing.

Quick-Change-Management Process

The industry is in unchartered waters, so you must remain open to feedback, so you can stay nimble and responsive to customer needs.

If a particular plan of attack is proving ineffective or is pushing customers away, the quick-change-management process must be employed to adapt.

Prioritize Critical Data

Part of your communication evaluation process should include bringing together your relevant teams to identify what data you may need to include in these critical communications.

You want to ensure the customer is likely to fill out those data fields without getting overwhelmed by too many questions, and you don’t want to spend time and resources collecting more data than you have use for. Figure out what’s important to your CCM process and prioritize that.

Streamline Customer Communication Management

The process of reestablishing these utility customer communications is going to be significant, so you want to make sure you’re doing so in the most effective and optimal way.

As noted, you’re going to be doing an evaluation of your customer communications and potentially adjust your strategy, so ensure the communication management process is streamlined to allow for swift execution of unexpected changes.

Omnichannel Communications

It’s now more important than ever, to ensure that your communications are not overlooked.

Every customer is different in terms of how responsive they are to different media, whether digital or physical, so be sure to offer multiple channels: email, mobile app, web portal, physical mail, phone calls, etc.

For example, you may have been used to customers responding more to physical mail, but research has found that due to the safety and convenience of digital billing, customer adoption increased during the pandemic – the click-to-open rate on e-bills increased 53% from 2019 to 2020.

Consistent Messaging

As you offer omnichannel communications, it’s critical to ensure that the messaging remains consistent in look and feel and gets updated based on action taken by the customer.

The more you can personalize messaging to each customer, the better.

One study found a 22% increase in open rate for email newsletters when personalized compared with not personalized!

The next step to enhance the way you communicate with utility customers today

You’ll only have one opportunity to transition back to sending these important outreach communications, so it’s imperative to make sure you do it right. If you fumble this opportunity, you risk:

  • Creating more communication costs,
  • Pushing away your customers when they need your help the most, and
  • Losing out on potential opportunities to solidify the utility-customer relationship in a way that could benefit your programs for many years to come.

Because of how much is at stake, you may consider bringing on experts who can guide you through this process.

In particular, partnering with a CCM vendor like Doxim that offers a central hub for customer communications management that helps to streamline messaging across different delivery channels.

CCM experts can help you make sure this sensitive transition in the utility-customer relationship goes smoothly, successfully, and sets you up to remain a trusted ally moving forward. CHAT TO A DOXIM CCM EXPERT

3. Expansion of digital products

As banking customer behavior shifts, banks must move with the times, or risk getting left behind. Many banks today are exploring the power and potential of open banking, which can allow them to offer more innovative products and services to their customers, as well as to better compete with fintech companies and other non-traditional financial service providers.

As you shift your banking business model to reach new segments or provide an enhanced array of services, communication becomes even more pivotal to your success. After all, if your customers don’t know which new services they qualify for, or how those services will help them meet their goals, then they are unlikely to explore them further. CCM technology can be leveraged here to provide personalized on-statement messaging that directs customers to the right products and services, as well as 1:1 personalized “explainer” videos to help them get started.

Adjusting your bank’s priorities to thrive in 2023

In an era of constant change, the key to successfully transforming your bank’s business model will be to stay attuned to the changing needs and preferences of customers, and to be open to exploring new opportunities and technologies that can help your FI stay competitive and relevant. But these new opportunities are doomed to fail if you do not clearly communicate their benefits and make it simple for customers to access them.

That is why transforming your customer communication strategy is the best first step to broader digital transformation. By updating your approach to communications to meet omnichannel customer needs, you also position your bank to communicate the benefits of changes in your broader organization, like new or enhanced products and services. The pace of change in banking has never been brisker – but with the right strategic approach to these changes, the future is bright.

Investing in a modern customer communication management and engagement platform is an essential part modernizing your banking strategy, as it can provide the personalized digital experiences that will keep your bank or credit union ahead of the competition. It helps provide a great customer experience, and builds rich relationships, which in turn results in customers for life and a competitive advantage in the rapidly evolving financial marketplace.

How Doxim can address the banking customer communications trends identified and help future-proof your digital banking strategy

banking customer communications trends

Doxim’s experienced consultants and omnichannel platform can help transform your customer experience in many ways, including:

  • Gathering and utilizing customer data to continually improve the personalization of communications.
  • Building trust with customers via communication (via print, PDF, HTML, email, text, and online interactive experiences).
  • Leveraging interactive video to drive personalized digital customer experiences, such as interactive statements, bills, or reports, that offer visual engagement and real-time interactivity
  • Putting customer data, including customer statements, at the fingertips of your service representatives for immediate and personal service.
  • Making a meaningful connection with value-added content, like information about philanthropic activities, on customer statements.

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