Four Customer Demands to Watch in 2016.

Posted by Lauren Bell on January 7, 2016 at 4:41 PM

shutterstock_3255653302015 proved to be another big year in the world of energy efficiency… an industry growing so quickly that even Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates want in.

Between the continued growth in utility energy efficiency spending and savings, states and cities creating and embracing their energy savings targets, the US Clean Power Plan, a bipartisan (!) energy efficiency bill, the Paris International Climate Agreement and the continuous innovation on “intelligent efficiency” through products and technology, it’s fair to say this year has been successful. And challenging.

There is a lot of work to do, in order to ensure these state and federal regulations can be met and not at the cost of business.

As an advertising agency specializing in utility and energy efficiency marketing, our question to the industry is, “Where does the customer fit into this revolution?”

As we dive into 2016, it’s important to think about this. What is it that they expect (and demand) from companies vying for their attention? Much less their participation and a high satisfaction score?

We’ve identified four of 2016’s top consumer demands, and how they relate to you:

#1: “Prove it!”

Consumers are surrounded by an endless sea of content. If you want your message and brand to rise to the top, chances are you are going to have to take a stand. You will have to be relevant, both where the consumer is paying attention and on what actually matters to them.

According to Trendwatching, 73% of Millennials believe businesses should share a point of view about issues and should influence others to get involved.

We’re not saying you need to put out an op-ed on the Iran nuclear deal, but we are saying that you need to take a stand on something that actually matters to consumers.

For utilities, this is easy: clean energy updates, energy efficiency programs, reducing emissions.

Whether you know it or not, you have already taken a stand. Whether it was forced, mandated or an outcome of your culture, it really doesn’t matter. If you offer energy efficiency programs or products, this is already proof that you’re taking action, and if your customers join you, they can make an impact too.

Why isn’t energy efficiency representing the brand of every utility?

We’ll discuss this more in the upcoming weeks, but it’s important to note that simply offering rebates and program sign-ups does not paint the picture of taking a stand. It’s actually just adding something to your customer’s “to do” list. The first step is building awareness of your efforts (painting the picture), building the customer’s desire to join you, and then hitting them with the offers.

So, prove yourself by proving and acting on your brand promise.

#2: “Give it to me. NOW.”

Let’s pretend that you’ve now gotten my interest in a home-audit. I click to sign up. And all of the sudden, there’s a form. And a process. And all I want to do is get the audit scheduled. Chances are you’ve lost me.

More than ever, customers are demanding ease and speed when it comes to taking action. Whatever it is you need them to do, the experience better be simple.

Let’s use Domino’s as an example. In 2015, they launched the Pizza AnyWare app, a service that allows customers to order a pizza by simply texting the pizza emoji to Dominos or tweeting @Dominos #easyorder.

Now, it’s totally fair to be thinking… What is wrong with society that we can no longer make a phone call or order online? That people are in such emergent need for a pepperoni pizza that all they can handle doing is sending an emoji? (Okay, feel better?)

Unfortunately, it’s real. And this is a trend you need to be aware of because it’s not going away – only growing. Is the future of reporting a power outage through the lightning emoji? Maybe.

Knowing that customers are ordering their pizza by texting one single emoji… How do they feel when they are searching for program details? Paying their bill? Submitting a rebate form?

We’re going to hypothesize that the general answer does not rate highly.

Developing a content strategy and simplified user experience through the lens of the customer is a MUST. It will allow you to offer a more efficient, streamlined customer experience.

#3: “Help me help myself.”

Customers ACTUALLY want to hear more from you. The trick? It has to be the right message and content. If it’s not, they’ll unsubscribe, not recall the communication they received (a travesty come JD Power survey time) and you won’t get a return on any of it.

How are successful brands having more touch points than ever before, and not annoying customers?

We’ve talked about the importance of visualization and discussed what everyone can learn from companies like FitBit. (Energy Efficiency vs. The FitBit)

Again, we will use them as an example because they’re doing it right. FitBit nudges you toward better behaviors. It’s not telling you someone else is doing better than you (unless you want it to) and rewards you with a badge that you can either share on Facebook, or do nothing.

Consumers are expecting this nudging from all companies and brands. KSV’s 2015 E.E. research shows 85% of participants want to be able to visualize their energy use. 52% state they would look at it regularly and actually change their behavior.

The good news for utilities that offer these types of tools is that people are interested. The challenge is to make them stupidly simple so that people continue to use them over time. Are there notifications (through your app, email or social media) that you can weave into the experience to nudge customers to act?

  • “Good evening! It’s 9:00pm. Most people in your time zone are watching TV right now. Turn off the lights in other rooms to save energy and money. Good night!”
  • “Good morning! It’s 8:00am. Don’t forget to unplug the coffee pot on your way out, saving energy and money. Have a terrific day!”

Could you sync these notifications based on the data you know about them? Again, it’s all about being relevant and useful. We just can’t say it enough.

#4: “Do the research for me.”

Birchbox is the most popular subscription box service and has been for a few years; however, new ones are popping up for different niches - clothes, makeup, grooming products, art, snacks, pet products, home décor - you name it.

Consumers are curious about new products that will improve their lives, but want to try it before they buy it. They’re not willing to spend money on new products that might not meet their needs. And they’re also not willing to do the research. (Who has time to sort through the millions of reviews out there?)

But these subscription services are offering more than the opportunity to try products and brands in small quantities, these companies are acting as a quality curator of the best products that fit consumer demand in these niches.

Some of these companies are even customizing based on completed customer profiles and/or past purchase information, so the products received are completely tailored to consumer’s preferences, home, etc.

In some ways, these subscription services are acting as a “Trusted Advisor” for these niche categories… How can utilities leverage this?

It’s all about relevancy. Your customers may not want every offer or rebate you put on Facebook. The result? They may never see any of your offers, even the ones that may spark interest. Can you gain their trust by offering what they need? If they’ve completed an online home audit or home profile (through Energy Savvy or Apogee technologies)– do you know enough to curate the offers that are relevant to them?

Is the context of your rebates structured in a way that allows you to be seen as a Trusted Advisor?

Don’t just sell a deal on a pack of light bulbs, but tell the customer the benefit of using that specific product. Own the fact that you chose to partner with a leading brand, and why. Attach yourself to brands customers already trust.

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It’s fair to say that customer expectations of you grow every day. Their demands are somewhat unruly, but as a great marketer once said… “When it comes to the customer, perception is reality.”

These trends are not things you can change overnight, but with an experienced, strategic partner, you can create a plan to deliver relevant content and a streamlined user experience in less time than you would imagine. Call us. We’d love to help.

Stay tuned for KSV’s 2016 Market Research on Increasing Customer Satisfaction. National survey is currently in the field. We look forward to sharing our insights with you.

Lauren Bell / Engagement Manager / 212.366.4000 / lbell@ksvc.com

Topics: Customer-Centric Marketing, customer demands, Customer Engagement, customer experience, utility communications, Utility Marketing, connected home, energy efficiency, Energy Wire, Intelligent Efficiency, KSV research, marketing, personalization

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