Connecting with Millennials


Seamless Experience is Table Stakes

PUF 2.0 - September 15, 2017

PUF's Steve Mitnick: How can utilities begin to connect with millennials?

Ashley Nicholls: I think one of the first steps is understanding what the word millennials means.

For a lot of people there's a picture of a very young person, potentially in or just getting out of college, with a phone, using SnapChat. But really, that's not what millennials are. Millennials could be in their mid-thirties with a mortgage that they are tenured into and two children. 

One of the mistakes that organizations make when they think about millennials is they consider it to be a life stage. It's not that. It's a set of beliefs about the way that they can interact with the world, and businesses, and their career, and their family.

One of the keys to those beliefs is the idea of things being seamless experiences. We would say that one of the first things utilities could do to connect with millennials is help them disconnect from the utility process. 

Because it really is not about the utility, or their process, or their business model, or what they want to accomplish. It's about the customer. That's always true. But it is particularly true for millennials.

If you think about the companies that you interact with daily, from your cell phone, to your cable provider, to the bank, to Uber, the companies that you feel the best about are the ones where the experience is seamless. 

With Uber, you're getting that ride delivered to wherever you are in the world with minimal effort on your part. No money is exchanging hands. At this point, that seamless experience is table stakes. It's not just nice to have. It's not something that you should be getting patted on the back for. 

One of the challenges utilities face is that when they start to improve experiences, and let's be honest, some of the utility experiences are driven by bureaucracy and big business, it's hard to make changes inside these organizations.

But when utilities finally do make a change, we're like, "Hey, look what we've done." We expect the customers to be thankful, but really this is just table stakes for them.

PUF's Steve Mitnick: Are you saying it is hard for people who run most of the utility companies to get it?

Ashley Nicholls: Yes. I think that a couple of things happen. When you're inside an organization it's easy to do things that make sense to you because of all the things that you know. But your customers don't have those experiences or that information. They only know the experience they are having, not the reasons behind it.

Until you've talked to your customers and gone through the experiences that they're going through and experienced the places where there is friction, it's easy to get removed from the processes you're asking your customers to go through.

The truth is, none of your customers, but particularly the millennials, are comparing your company, or your process, to companies with similar experience. They are comparing you to the next best-in-class organizations like Amazon and Netflix, who are catering to them. 

That is their expectation now of how business should be able to service them, at this point, at this day and age. Anything less than that, frankly, doesn't look innovative.

PUF's Steve Mitnick: What do you mean by "trusted advisor to millennials"? 

Ashley Nicholls: The terminology is changing. KSV talks to our clients about being a trusted advisor. Because of the J.D. Power metric, we know how crucial it is to many of our clients' businesses. 

Let's talk about the components of trust. Reliability means that there must be a lot of trust. But we also know that the reliable availability of electricity, when you flick a switch, or natural gas, when you turn a knob, is taken for granted. 

In fact, people don't ever appreciate it when they flip on the light switch and say, "Thank goodness the lights turned on." They are just frustrated when the opposite happens, and they want it fixed as fast as possible. 

Again, just like the seamless experience, the fact that you're there when they expect you to be there is table stakes. The same way that if you went to an ATM and tried to make a withdrawal, and your money wasn't available to you for some reason, you wouldn't say, "Oh no, the bank is usually so reliable." You aren't grateful to the bank when you can get your money out of an ATM. It's table stakes.

Trusted advice means you trust the utility to give you information about how they use energy and about how you should use energy.

Some of the conversations that KSV is moving towards with some of our partners, very progressive, forward thinking utilities, they're interested in leading clean energy transformations in this country. That's never going to happen if all you are is the company who makes sure that the lights come on when you flip the switch.

PUF's Steve Mitnick: Do utilities have a chance to be successful and create brand loyalty?

Ashley Nicholls: Yes, they absolutely do. But one of the issues that we see some of our partners facing is, utilities have this push and pull inside. 

There's a desire to service their entire customer footprint, but then when it comes to energy efficiency, and programs like demand response, you have to segment them. You have to be smart about the messages that you're delivering to the world. 

By the very nature of what you're doing, segmentation leads to people falling outside of the segment. Millennials frequently fall outside of propensity models because they don't have the discretionary incomes. Perhaps they're renters. 

But utilities are missing the opportunity to begin the conversation with the next, most valuable, customers that we're going to have. Even the youngest millennials are the next generation who will be buying homes and investing in energy efficiency. They are trying to figure out how to outfit that kitchen renovation they're doing.

If all we do is ignore them until we want something from them, that's not a way you would want to interact with a brand, or a person.

PUF's Steve Mitnick: What's one thing that CEOs can do that would move the needle with millennials?

Ashley Nicholls: We talked about the idea that the word millennials means a core set of beliefs. 

One key thing that you could do is customer experience auditing. Understand what you are really asking for from customers. And, where are those friction moments, that don't feel good to them, where you can improve? 

In fact, we were talking to a utility executive recently who had just done a customer experience audit for one of their programs. The utility found it was taking an inordinate amount of time between when a customer expressed interest and when they were able to participate in a program.

They were able to cut that time in half just through some simple process improvements. But they didn't even know that was a problem that they needed to fix, until they did the customer experience audit.

PUF's Steve Mitnick: How did you get into this field? 

Ashley Nicholls: My background is exclusively in advertising and I had the opportunity to join KSV almost ten years ago. 

KSV has been in business for four decades. We've always had energy and sustainability clients. But about six years ago we began to see an incredible gap between the innovation that was happening and the energy industry. And the new appetite of customers to partake in it. 

We felt that was an interesting thing to lean into. 

Our focus on energy has given us the chance to be inside the walls of some of the biggest, most progressive utilities in the country, and some of the smallest, most fascinating energy startups. Because of the trust our clients have in us, we're able to be a part of exciting conversations about the future of energy. And right now, there just isn't much more important work you could be doing. v