Creativity Cuts Cost of Connecting with Utility Customers

Utility communicators are under increased pressure to do more with less. That puts a premium on creativity. We’re all searching for the same Holy Grail: low-cost, high-impact ways to connect with customers.

Two public-power utilities in Florida recently shared some very creative ideas to connect with customers. Perhaps their ideas can help you connect more effectively with your customers and other stakeholders?

One utility, Kissimmee Utility Authority (KUA), invested a modest sum 10 years ago to build a trailer-mounted BBQ grill with 40 square feet of cooking space. It loans the grill out to schools, churches, and non-profit and community groups that are in its service territory. All they have to do is sign up at The Big Grill. The grill, which features KUA signage, fed a total of 40,700 people last year at 74 different events.

KUA not only supplies the propane for free, it delivers the grill to your event, picks it up, and cleans it after each use.

Wow—what a great idea! KUA is bending over backwards to help its customers facilitate enjoyable and meaningful social events. The community response has been so strong that KUA recently decided to build a second grill.

Seeing KUA’s signage around the grill while standing in line for a steak reminds customers that KUA helped make the event possible. “As communicators, we need to think outside the box about how we can connect with customers,” spokesperson Chris Gent told me. “It’s not always about handing out refrigerator magnets at public events.” Agreed!

About 150 miles northeast of Kissimmee, another Florida public power utility, JEA, serving Jacksonville, is testing its messages with customers through an online customer community site called Your Two Cents Worth. Today, about 2,500 JEA customers are helping the utility test messages, program names, advertising executions, program elements, videos, and more.

Customers receive an email when JEA seeks customer feedback on messages, programs, or advertising. Operating since 2009, the best part of “Your Two Cents Worth” is that the program was homegrown. No consultants were needed to set up or monitor the site.

“This has been a great way to quickly and inexpensively get early feedback from customers,” said JEA spokeswoman Gerri Boyce. “We never touch them more than once per month, and we typically get 500–800 customer responses within a few days after we ask for their comments. 
‘Your Two Cents Worth’ has helped us craft messages and communications materials that really hit the mark with customers.”

“It’s really not rocket science—customers want to know how what we do will affect them,” Gerri observed.

JEA is not the only utility gathering feedback from customers via an online customer community. Colorado Springs Utilities has its Customers Count Panel. Florida Power & Light also tests messages, ads, programs and marketing using a similar panel, though theirs is by invitation only.

JEA and KUA are two utilities that are showing how creativity can cut the cost—and increase the impact—of customer communications.

—John Egan is the founder and president of Egan Energy Communications and a veteran electric utility communicator who contributes frequently to MANAGING POWER.

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