I recently returned from another successful national conference of the Association of Energy Services Professionals. This year’s conference theme was “Destination Innovation.” Conference sessions treated attendees to a variety of case study presentations, thought-provoking panel discussions, and dynamic keynote speakers whose messages aimed to inspire and leverage innovative thinking within our industry.

A constant theme snaking its way through the focus on innovation? The customer. And, more specifically, how utilities can leverage new and innovative program strategies and technologies to better engage customers and drive their participation in programs, products, and services.

One option that has joined the growing arsenal of innovative technologies used by utilities is marketing automation—a relative newcomer to the utility world. Marketing automation is often deployed in conjunction with an email marketing platform, and is being quickly embraced by an ever-growing percentage of other industry sectors for its plethora of business benefits.

A quick Google search can tell you countless ways this time-saving, repetition-reducing marketing tool can be used to help companies grow their business through increased customer nurturing and acquisition. But the well-known business benefits of marketing automation may not satisfy a utility that is truly concerned with customer service and building that trusted relationship with customers.

In this case, a marketing manager may be left wondering: What does it do for the customer? In other words, what does the customer get out of marketing automation? How does it help serve their individual needs? What effect can the technology have on the utility’s relationship with the customer? These are excellent questions.

In the attempt to drive program participation, the last thing utilities want to do is compromise any trust they’ve worked hard to build with their customers by replacing the utility-customer relationship with a high-tech marketing technology that may compromise that connection.

Luckily, there is good news. Marketing automation offers significant benefits to utilities on both fronts: better program results and the opportunity for a closer, 1-1 experience for your customers.

 

Here are three specific ways utilities can benefit from the use of marketing automation:

 

1. Personalization

You have a small, in-house marketing team, your agency is busy with executing a big awareness campaign, and your implementation firm is focused on boots-on-the-ground tactics. End of the year goals are looming large and some programs are underperforming. You know you need targeted strategies to drive deeper engagement and participation, but the time and resources needed to execute targeted email campaigns just aren’t in the cards. So, you do what you’ve done countless times: you send a broadcast email out to your customer list.

This approach is what is commonly referred to as the “batch and blast email,” and it is most definitely not on your path to “destination innovation.” While a batch and blast email might help slightly with awareness building, it certainly doesn’t check the box for relationship building. These days, utilities need to do both: they need to hit their goals and they need to build rock-solid relationships with their customers.

The truth is, everyone appreciates a little extra attention. The customer might have liked a bit more information on the types of measures that make the most sense for them. You may have been able to guide them forward on the path to greater energy savings by pointing out the most energy efficient thing on their home project to-do list.

Marketing automation brings the ability to send customized and detailed messages to each customer as regularly as desired. Spending a small amount of time to schedule ongoing, relevant touch points with your customers can provide them with months of personalized communication—all without requiring you or your team to juggle marketing tasks, compromise other campaigns, or step away from boots-on-the ground tactics.

 

2. Relevance

The last thing you want to do to a customer is include them in a mass email blast that does not pertain to their individual journey. Yes, sometimes you might have a new program or service you’ve just launched that needs to be shared far and wide, but it’s important to consider which customers will find the offer meaningful and relevant. Sending messages to customers who don’t believe them to be relevant can be worse than not sending any messages at all.

That’s why it is highly beneficial that marketing automation facilitates audience segmentation and response tracking. With these features, if a customer shows up on a list to receive information on high efficiency cooling systems, but their visit to your program website says they’re more interested in efficient lighting, they will begin receiving messaging about LEDs, rather than HVAC information.

Simply put, the more relevant your emails, the more valuable the information to the customer, and the better the program results.

 

3. Convenience and Timeliness

Marketing automation can let utilities set up automatic “triggers” to send specific messaging to customers as they complete a certain action or respond to emails in a certain way (e.g. by clicking a “Learn More” button). This gives you a great idea of where the customer is in their energy savings journey, allowing you to feed them the right information at the right time.

This means you can initiate communication with a customer about considering energy efficient equipment before they fill their new home with appliances, possibly the same day they visit your website in search of new service info. With the chaos of moving into a new home, imagine how appreciative a utility customer would be to know you are thinking of ways to help them reduce the home’s expenses.

Proactively sending customers the right information at the right time eliminates their need to go out searching for answers. Otherwise, even calling around to ask questions might have become one of several items on the customer’s to-do list, further prolonging an efficient equipment purchase or installation. Instead, you can provide an advanced level of convenience to customers by making them more prepared and less overwhelmed when it comes to energy-savings.

These are just a few examples of how customers can have a better, more tailored experience with utilities through marketing automation. There is no reason utilities should have to trade the trust or quality of their relationships with customers for a more efficient method of communication. Instead, use marketing automation as a tool for enhancing the personalization, relevance, convenience, and timeliness of your communications with your customers.

 

Want to learn more about how marketing automation can improve outcomes for you and your programs?

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