Customer Acquisition Strategies For Utility Demand Response Programs

Amber Mullaney is Vice President, Marketing & Communications at Virtual Peaker, one of the world’s friendliest distributed energy platforms.

With aggressive decarbonization goals, electric utilities are turning to innovative ways to shift demand and usher in a cleaner energy future for all. Luckily, consumers are steadily adopting smart technologies that offer demand response program participation opportunities. Effectively acquiring customers for these demand response programs involves implementing targeted strategies to attract and engage participants.

As the vice president of marketing at Virtual Peaker, my team and I work directly with utilities looking to do just this. For example, we gather and iterate upon feedback from our clients to ensure that they have the tools they need when they need them and then rapidly work to prioritize them to expedite communications. We’ve implemented updates to streamline the enrollment process, and we work with utilities through ongoing training to help them get the most out of their communications. Here are some key strategies I’ve seen implemented that have proved successful.

Clear Communication And Education

Communicate and educate about the benefits of demand response programs to customers, emphasizing cost savings, environmental impact and energy efficiency. You’ll want to use simple and engaging language to explain how the program works and the positive outcomes for both the customer and the community. Highlight the program and how easy it is to give back to the community. We all know that money talks. Emphasize the financial incentives or rewards customers can receive for participating in the program.

For example, we’ve worked with clients on direct messaging techniques in contacting customers via email, which can be an effective way to educate customers and generate awareness. Suppose a customer encounters something they won’t approve for an unknown reason. Utilities can correspond with the customer to help them troubleshoot issues or address concerns. Ultimately, the goal is to make utilities more approachable, which means engendering a larger enrollment and participation pool of potential customers.

User-Friendly Enrollment Process

Simplify the enrollment process and focus on the user experience to reduce barriers for customers. Create user-friendly online portals for easy registration. According to a 2018 PWC report, “63% [of consumers]

say they’d share more information with a company that offers a great experience.” Be sure to provide clear instructions on how customers can sign up, enroll their smart devices, opt out of demand response events and manage their preferences.

Incentives And Rewards

With the right technology, you can offer attractive incentives or rewards to encourage customer participation. I’ve seen utilities include discounts on energy bills, loyalty points or other tangible benefits like checks, gift cards, carbon offsets or rebates on device costs. It’s also important to implement tiered rewards based on the level of engagement to motivate ongoing participation.

Segmentation And Targeting

As with any marketing effort, the cornerstone of achieving goals is getting the right message to the right person. Thus, segmenting customers based on their energy usage patterns, preferences and demographics is key to success. Target specific customer groups with personalized messaging and incentives that resonate with their unique needs and interests. As with any marketing, you’ll need to continuously test and iterate marketing strategies to identify the most effective approaches.

Partnerships

Work with other stakeholders such as related businesses and organizations to amplify the reach of your marketing efforts. Leverage existing networks to promote the demand response program and encourage participation.

Working closely with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) is a smart way to reach device owners, too. Device users typically trust their OEMs. OEMs typically do their own marketing to consumers and can boost your program enrollment goals with little effort on your part other than being a collaborative partner.

Data Analytics

Data and analytics can help you understand customer behavior and preferences. You can use this information to tailor marketing strategies and optimize outreach efforts. Having a distributed energy resources management system (DERMS) that’s integrated with a customer engagement tool can provide customers with insights into their energy usage patterns. You can drive further engagement and success by showcasing the impact of their participation in the program.

Customer Support And Engagement

Foster ongoing engagement through regular communication, updates and feedback surveys to continuously improve the customer experience and adapt the program based on insights gained from customer interactions. It’s important to have automated capabilities within your DERMS. This will allow you to create “set it and forget it” templated messaging and further drive engagement.

For example, to make enrollment go faster, my company has worked with utility program managers to create a list of qualifiers that allow them to automatically approve new houses that meet the criteria. Instead of having to approve or deny each house, this automates the process for qualifying households. A notification is sent whenever there’s a batch of these.

Regulatory Compliance

Demand response programs often involve adjustments to energy consumption, and adherence to regulations helps ensure that these adjustments are made in a controlled manner, avoiding disruptions to the grid. You’ll want to ensure compliance with relevant regulations and standards governing demand response programs. By communicating the transparency and legality of the program with participants, you’ll build trust among your customers.

Conclusion

Navigating the landscape of customer acquisition in utility demand response programs requires a strategic and multifaceted approach. Utilities armed with these proven strategies not only attract participants but also contribute significantly to building a resilient and efficient energy grid. Utilities embracing innovation and refining strategies through continuous testing and iteration can propel us closer to achieving our decarbonization goals.


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