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Listening for what matters to residential utility customers

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Motivating residential customers to embrace energy efficiency measures has never been easy. And now that many Americans have embraced the simple steps like light bulb replacement and weatherization, the work ahead for utility communications leaders is getting harder.

This prompted us to poll 1,345 homeowners across the nation earlier this year to get a better sense of their views on a range of energy-related topics, with a specific focus on energy efficiency. While the findings were at times revealing --- less than 10% of homeowners deem their homes very efficient and 63% want to make their homes more efficient --- what really captured our attention were the insights we gleaned from the data.

Five insights in particular strike us as crucial to improved understanding of the best ways to motivate residential customers to continue saving energy:

1. Language matters

One comment from a homeowner in particular captured our attention: “It’s not about energy efficiency. It’s about improving my home.” A reframing of the dialogue with customers will help make the idea of energy efficiency improvements resonate with people. We need to connect the two and make it clear that energy efficiency improvements are home improvements. Maybe we should even consider nixing the phrase energy efficiency altogether and replacing it with home efficiency.

Utilities might take a cue from Lowe’s Home Improvement, which has done a stellar job making home improvement fun. For proof, just check out Lowe’s very entertaining and instructive home improvement videos #lowesfixinsix on Vine.

2. Visualization matters

A great majority of homeowners (85%) expressed a desire to view an in-depth dashboard of their energy consumption and more than half (52%) said they would be more likely to make changes to their behavior if they could visualize their energy use. People could always run, walk and work out before Fitbit. But Fitbit allows them to see results and gives them confidence, which translates to motivation to do more.

Said one homeowner: “When I see it with my own eyes, I’m more confident.”

In many ways this insight comes as no surprise given the ways consumers are engaging today with their financial and health information via apps and other visualization tools.

3. Control matters

We asked a series of questions about smart technology and learned a lot. The value of smart technology like Nest learning thermostats varies with people’s age. Control matters, especially to young homeowners (under 35 years). When we asked specifically about the value of smart technology, 34% of young homeowners cite the ability to control home functions remotely. But for older homeowners (35+ years), the primary motivation to embrace smart home technology is saving money. Fully 43% cite savings as their number one reason to embrace smart technology.

These findings suggest that utilities need to vary messages depending on people’s ages and the point in their journey through home ownership.

4. Personalization matters

Some of the most powerful findings of the research concern demographic differences. Hispanic, Asian and African Americans are more interested in home energy savings than are Caucasians.

Moreover, these same three groups reported higher incidence of energy efficiency improvements in the last 12 months.

Again, the implications for utility executives are clear: Personalization and customization matter.

5. Connections matter

In addition to reaching the right person with the right message, utilities need to use the right channels to convey their energy efficiency messages. When we asked people about their preferred channels, they cited email (32%), direct mail (27%), Internet search (18%), and social media (1%). But they also noted that print is their most trusted source of information, suggesting the power of print endures.

People also turn to other people for home-related advice. We learned that 33% turned to family and friends, 27% to online research, 26% said a store, and eight percent a contractor, but only one percent turned to their electric utility company --- probably because people don’t readily connect energy efficiency and their utility to home improvement. This suggests there is plenty of opportunity for utilities to work toward becoming more of a trusted home efficiency advisor.

We plan to continue listening for what matters among residential utility customers because it’s the best way to figure out how to connect with the right customers with the right messages through the right channels.


Learn more about what your customers want in digital and mobile arenas at the Mobile Utility Summit in Dallas this Sept, 2015.

Dave Treston's picture

Thank Dave for the Post!

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