What water customers can teach utilities about marketing
Maximizing customer satisfaction is important for everyone, but utilities are a special case. Regulatory approval of a much needed rate increase or a new infrastructure plan is often tied closely to public perceptions, making it absolutely crucial for utilities to keep customers on their side and avoid negative publicity. So let’s take a look at three lessons in utilities marketing, according to the customers of 87 U.S. water suppliers surveyed by J.D. Power in 2016-2017.
LESSON #1: It pays to communicate frequently – and memorably. Customers who recalled receiving at least six direct communications from their water utility expressed satisfaction levels a whopping 203 points higher on J.D. Powers’ 1000-point communications scale than customers who couldn’t recall a single direct message. Recent contact also scored high, with customers being 16% more satisfied if they could recall a communication within the previous three months.
These numbers reflect our own experience at Creative Co-op, helping utilities reach out to customers as valued resources and trusted brands rather than anonymous commodities. When we started our rebranding project for American Water, about half the customers were actually unaware of their utility’s name. Efforts to communicate in a more distinctive and memorable fashion (as well as more frequently) paid off with a 400% return on investment for the utility, paving the way for a successful IPO.
LESSON #2: Get your story across in the news media. J.D. Power tells us that water customers who recalled hearing about their utility in the news scored 6% higher for satisfaction. Of course it helps if that coverage is positive, underscoring the importance of being proactive.
- Make a point of keeping the media informed online via Twitter, which many reporters continue to use as a resource for the latest information.
- Consider an advocacy campaign such as the one we created for Pennichuck Corporation, which favorably mobilized public opinion against a takeover bid by local city authorities.
In today’s wide-open media landscape, leveraging trusted news sources or “unpaid media” can dramatically change how customers look at you. But take note: to harness the power of the press, you must define the message before it defines you.
LESSON #3: Publicize your sustainability and environmental stewardship efforts. Conservation in particular is a major satisfaction factor for consumers. J.D. Power notes that customers who know about their water utility’s conservation programs score 27% higher for satisfaction; similarly, awareness of efforts to improve the environment can raise scores by about 24%.
- To help drive home the point that American Water was about providing resources rather than consuming them, we developed a series of interactive annual reports that replaced traditional printed reports – then made that part of the story, publicizing estimated savings of 330 trees, 98,000 gallons of water and $50,000 in costs.
- Still another example in the energy sector was our rebranding of energy savings programs for Pepco and Delmarva Power in Maryland. Working in compliance with state and federal initiatives, the rebranded programs achieved major energy reductions while opening the public’s eyes to the difference a committed utility can make. As a result, customer participation increased by 169% for Pepco and 160% for Delmarva Power within two years, raising both utilities’ profiles as an energetic force for positive change.
Apply these lessons to your own brand, and you’ll set new high-water marks for customer satisfaction. Call us at (603) 658-1600, and learn how our decades of utilities marketing experience can be put to work for you.