Calling himself the “world’s greatest consumer,” utility watchdog Michael Shames helped in 1981 to create the Utility Consumers’ Action Network (UCAN), where he has served as executive director...
Bringing Customers On Board, part II
The entire utility-consumer relationship must be reengineered.
to explain how customers are charged for energy; and to demonstrate technologies targeted at the consumer level, how they work, and where the end consumer fits in the overall energy conservation equation.
This roadshow idea teaches an important lesson.
In the world of sales management, word-of-mouth marketing and referrals are widely regarded as the least costly, yet one of the most effective methods to achieve one’s business goals, whether increased sales or market share. People rely upon social interaction to share ideas, accomplish joint and complex tasks, and, not surprisingly, to take action and make decisions. People who are considered trusted advisors, friends, or confidants frequently are sought to provide opinions and insights across a variety of topics, ranging from investment decisions to professional services for home contractors and auto mechanics. People rely upon the experiences of others to help provide context and insight that they themselves can’t apply to a situation.
Utilities should consider enlisting the support of favorable or converted consumers to help communicate the value propositions associated with AMI, demand response, and other critical but sensitive issues relative to the energy imperative, and upon which the AMI business case is predicated.
The reality of advertising and marketing is that such efforts usually focus on conveying a single perspective—that of the entity offering the goods or services. Such media traditionally focuses on the value proposition the seller believes the potential buyer should understand and identify with, and, ultimately, is influential enough to cause the buyer to take action.
Referrals work a bit differently. The seller isn’t necessarily the focal point; instead, personal experiences and opinions about a seller’s goods, services, attitude, or capability become the focal point of the discourse. Pros and cons are often identified, and unrehearsed dialogue between the parties facilitates open and honest communication. Information communicated during such discussions is usually considered personal and relevant and should provide a higher probability that the person seeking the information will want to take action.
What better emissary could utilities hope to find than someone who has been there, done that?
Hearing the message from a consumer who has little to gain personally by sharing his or her positive experiences about demand response or energy conservation likely won’t be regarded as Big Brother trying to exercise control.
The human element shouldn’t be underestimated. The power of social networking and referral has been demonstrated time and again.
In the future, neighbors might offer to walk each other through a new utility Web site to explain how to use new energy management tools and save some money. Or perhaps consumers could read an email, blog, wiki, or social-network message from a relative who goes on and on about the cool in-home display that lets one know in advance about a critical peak event and how the pool pump was turned off providing extra cost savings and a rebate.
When the customer beomes become part of the process, consumers might become more interested, and less reticent to see how they can benefit—and become part of something bigger and better.