In the session, moderated by Young Kim, Principal of Energy Research Consulting Group the panel members, DeAnna Hardwick, Interim Executive Vice President of Customer Strategy at CPS Energy, Zac Lowder, EVP New Markets at Inspire Clean Energy, Brian Armentrout, Senior Marketing Director at Chariot Energy, and James Smith, VP Marketing & Advertising at Energy Harbor shared their perspectives on what makes their companies and brands successful. The session, in a workshop format, was split into three parts where panel members gave insight into each of their perspectives in part one, moderated a discussion in part two, and reconvened on stage for part three to share the insights gathered in part two.
When asked what the right amount of communicating with your customer is, panel members implied that there really is no blanket answer or blanket frequency around how often to communicate to your customer base because everybody’s different. However, all panel members emphasized that segmentation and personalization, using data, thinking about the channel, the medium and the content they’re communicating through were of utmost importance. Offering customers a variety of ways to be in communication with their utility and giving them a choice of what suits them each time was also important. Sometimes less is more when it comes to different customer segments, so using data to understand what really drives value in the mind of the consumer and then meeting the customer in that place is critical. For CPS, reaching out to customers in ways that they don’t expect you to and to just listen to them whenever they tell you, is important. They tell a story where they were able to help a customer of theirs with a personal problem before helping them with their utility bill. By asking the individual how they were doing today they found out that said customer hadn’t eaten in days because their caretaker had not showed up in days. CPS managed to bring them food and get in touch with the customer’s caretaker service before helping them with their utility bill. This is a sense of humanity which establishes trust with customers, especially in such a time of uncertainty as the pandemic. Not only does this establish trust but lays a great foundation for the aftermath of major events such as Winter Storm Uri which had the effect of trust being broken between utilities and their customers. Making trust establishment a part of the company culture and DNA but not treating it as a part time, after hours job is essential according to Zac from Inspire Clean Energy.
But what happens when this trust is broken and measures have to be taken to reestablish the trust? James from Energy Harbor said that in the context of a rebrand, it’s important to live the rebrand before you publish – be it before you say it. In the instance of Energy Harbor, they had to make sure that for the resilience of their nuclear plants, they had to be online as much as possible before bringing that message to their customers.
Panelists were asked what they consider a good measure for a brand’s health. We all know why people are with us because of what we’re doing well, but they left us for one reason or another and we want to find out why. So talking to not only current, but former customers is crucial, says Brian from Chariot Energy. Customers have a long memory, so we should also think about the lifetime value of a customer. We measure our brand health by looking at customer satisfaction, customer effort, brand reputation, management reputation, understanding what those expectations are, and we’re able to gauge that through polling and data. But one thing that says a lot is when our employees are proud to wear their company’s logo into the grocery store. After Winter Storm Uri, we were not there, says DeAnna from CPS. Zac from Inspire says that on top of all of their KPIs they require all new employees to spend time on the phones listening to customers, building those connections directly with customers and having those conversations. And so that’s a part of our culture, which is important to Inspire. The output is the KPIs, the input is what you do to drive the results. At Energy Harbor, James says the focus is on looking at data, looking for correlations and data specifically around churn events which is one of the biggest measurements of customer experience in the markets in which they serve.
Coming back from the roundtable discussion the participants came to a few conclusions about brand strategies and how to forge a brand pledge for CX excellence. Experimentation or A/B testing is the best way to learn, for instance with a small segment of customers and see how they respond and what their actions are. What customers do rather than what they say is what should drive your brand strategy. Having an emotional brand trust and leveraging the engagement of your employees does also really help drive a strong customer experience. Another important point is maintaining consistency, not changing your brand during major events such as the pandemic or Winter Storm Uri. A brand pledge is important, not only when things are going fine and smooth but when things are actually volatile and not so smooth. Finally, letting your customers know what value you bring to them and even beyond that, keeping the brand present in the employees minds.
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