Utilities and the importance of consumer communication during COVID-19

April Smith | April 1, 2020

Despite the energy sector’s critical role of ensuring electric service during the COVID-19 pandemic and its unprecedented actions to suspend disconnections due to non-payment nationwide, the utility industry’s response has gone largely unnoticed and unacknowledged by consumers.

This has left electric service providers a clean slate to leverage their unique position to convey messages of unity and support to consumers in order to gain confidence and trust.

Energy companies' responses perceived as "business as usual"

Three in five consumers surveyed reported their electric utility’s response to COVID-19 has been “business as usual,” while another third felt their energy provider has taken “expected actions” in response to the crisis.

 

Consumers' awareness of actions taken is rising

Only one in five was aware of specific actions their electric utility has taken in response to COVID-19; however, awareness levels increased between the first and second weeks of surveying.

Consumers are most aware of suspension of disconnects

Among those aware, most noted their utility suspended disconnections or waived late fees due to non-payment.

“They have sent text messages regarding the Corona and requested the households not to panic, not necessary to visit electric office for regular work. We are available online for your support.”

Electric companies have the opportunity to improve overall perceptions

The majority of consumers reported their electric utility’s response to the crisis has had no impact on their overall opinion of their utility; however, there is an opportunity for electric utilities to improve overall opinions by promoting the actions they have taken in response to COVID-19.

Almost 60% of consumers who are aware of these actions have a more positive overall opinion of their utility. Additionally, a higher proportion of customers reported a more positive opinion during the second week of surveying than the first, coinciding with higher awareness of actions taken in response to COVID-19.

Proactive communication can quell rising concerns

Looking into the future, three in five consumers report some level of concern about rising energy costs if confined to their homes for an extended period of time, with the level of concern rising week-over-week. This reveals a second opportunity for electric utilities to support their customers during this difficult time by proactively communicating energy saving tips and connecting consumers with resources when they need help.

"So far the service has been excellent as it has been in the past. No complaints and this was one area I wasn't really worried about. Hopefully I won't be later on?"

"The power flickered during the day about two days ago and it made me concerned because I need to work from home. At the same time, the power downtown flickered off, so it worried me that with more people using utilities it might have trouble sustaining."

 

Customer experience is key in this ever-changing landscape

It might be too early to see the true impact of COVID-19 in the energy sector, since many consumers may need a complete billing cycle before they engage with their energy provider or understand the full impact on their bottom line.

As reduced work hours continue and bills pile up, it will be important for utilities to listen to consumers or even proactively reach out to their customers and understand specific needs. For some, this may be late-fee forgiveness or payment plans, while others may appreciate suspended disconnects even past the expiration of stay-at-home orders as they regain footing. The key is to have the voice of your customer front and center to track their needs in this ever-changing landscape.