We are bombarded by messages all day every day through more channels than ever before. Buy this thing. Eat at this place. Wear this. Do that. Vote this way. Visit here. Follow this. Share this. It would be extremely overwhelming if we paid too much attention to it all.
When you make significant changes in your utility that impact customers (new billing system, new metering infrastructure, new policies, etc.), you may find yourself on the other side of the table. Suddenly, you’re the one who needs to develop and execute communications. Where do you start? How can you cut through the noise to ensure your message is heard?
You know, based on your own experiences as a consumer and a customer, that our brains are pretty good at helping us tune out things that aren’t relevant, or at least not relevant right now. Normally, you’re thankful for it. But now, from the other side of the table, your task becomes more difficult.
Below are some areas for you to consider.
Consistency is key. (Don’t wait!)
Many utilities don’t begin thinking about customer communications until they must. After all, it’s not an area that is well understood among utilities (and let’s face it, most of us are low on resources anyway). The saying, “The first best time to start is yesterday. The next best time to start is now.” rings true. It’s hard to get customers to listen if they aren’t used to hearing from you and receiving valuable information from you on a regular basis. You need to establish guidelines on how you will reach your customers, and how often. You don’t want to find yourself sending out communications only when there’s a significant change or an issue.
Understand your audience.
Before you can truly engage your customer base, you must truly know your customer base. What are the demographics? What is important to different groups of people? How might potential projects or changes impact different groups? Will you need to communicate in multiple languages?
Identify the best channels and tactics.
How do your customers consume information? Which sources do they trust? Which channels are available? Which are most popular? Are you up to date on social media channels and engagement best practices? Unfortunately, door hangers won’t cut it anymore, and you have to meet customers where they are. Most utility communications plans should cover various social media channels, utility/municipal websites, local news sources, direct mail, email, community resources, flyers, signage, community events, and more.
Build your infrastructure.
To modernize communications with your customers, you need an infrastructure to support digital marketing. Do you have a complete customer database with email addresses, mobile phone numbers, communication preferences, and preferred languages? Can you easily pull a list of these people and tailor communications accordingly? Do you have the tools (and expertise) to send email communications that render properly on multiple devices? Building the engine to sustain your communications plan is critical.
In general, the following are requirements for a successful utility communications program:
- Communicate early and often about anticipated changes to ensure there are no surprises
- Keep information relevant and helpful
- Clearly outline what customers should expect and when
- Ensure messages are aligned with what others are communicating
- Distill complex concepts and communicate them in a simple way
- Reach customers where they are, and make it easy to learn
- Use the appropriate communications channels for each community demographic
- Clearly communicate the benefits and the rationale behind the decision
Customer communications are complicated, and difficult to execute. There are many moving pieces, and many lessons to be learned. FATHOM has partnered with dozens of cities to implement communications plans and engagement strategies that work. We’ve been doing this for over a decade and have aggregated best practices across our community of utilities. Our best advice? Get a partner. Talk to us today.