Electric utilities companies have reason to be nervous about the tensions that have emerged within their customer relationships. As utilities increase in complexity, customers find them harder to understand and become frustrated and suspicious. They also become resistant to change when it is needed most. As we work towards a future of efficient energy production and consumption, the utility-consumer relationship must become far more transparent and amicable. Utilities PR firms offer services that can be invaluable to this endeavor. Let’s think about some of the bases that should be covered by a Utilities PR firm that hopes to improve a utilities company’s customer relationships.
First, a utilities PR firm should raise customer awareness about the goods and services included in the utilities industry. This means explaining the inner workings of electrical utilities in a way that eliminates acronyms and jargon wherever possible. According to a 2010 GE survey, 79% of Americans have never heard the term “smart grid,” and only 4% can explain what it is. As utilities firms adopt new programs that may be confusing or evocative of NIMBY sentiments, efforts to get customers on board must begin with educational campaigns that ensure customers understand why these changes are important and even necessary. A good utilities PR firm should be able to do this very effectively, for utilities PR specialists harbor a wealth of communications expertise and marketplace savvy.
Another important area that is currently jumbled with miscommunications and misunderstandings is the pricing of electrical utilities. New, more complicated ways of billing are emerging every day and customers often become very frustrated when they have no way of interpreting each line item. New renewable energy requirements on the national and state levels are also constantly increasing the price of energy. At this point, utilities companies aren’t doing a great job explaining these price changes and consumers are becoming suspicious. When the origin of price changes becomes unclear, consumers may even wonder whether they’re being cheated in some way. A utilities PR firm can impart clarity to anxious consumers and help them trust that the utilities company is billing them justly.
A final aspect of the utility-consumer relationship that can be improved through Utilities PR is the customer’s perception of the utility firm’s credibility. This issue can be resolved through the development of strategic partnerships between the utilities company and a “friendly” organization. The alliance between Central Maine Power’s smart meter-roll out and the National Resources Council of Maine provides a great example of this. A Utilities PR campaign can also enhance credibility through the utilization of social media channels that spur peer endorsements.
Utilities PR firms are valuable because while they understand the utilities industry, they are far enough removed from it to be able to see the forest for the trees. They also understand how to communicate with a diverse customer base. In these complicated times, the value of Utilities PR cannot be emphasized enough.