SOURCE: marcus evans

marcus evans

January 05, 2016 17:33 ET

Digital, Virtual, In-Person: Creative Approaches to Engage Utility Customers

Interview With David Koogler, Vice President, Member and External Relations, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative

MIAMI, FL--(Marketwired - January 05, 2016) - Customers are happiest when they are in control of their energy use and in communication with their utility. However, utilities are struggling to engage with their customers in real time through the customers preferred communication channels. Enabling utilities to interact with their customers through online self services, mobile and social networks is crucial. By empowering customers to interact with their energy providers, utilities can achieve greater program participation and stay ahead of the curve. With the evolution of new technologies, it is crucial for utilities to understand the customer base to meet their expectations in this new environment and deliver enhanced value for customers and utilities.

David Koogler, Vice President, Member and External Relations at Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC), recently spoke with marcus evans about topics to be discussed at the upcoming Utility Customer Engagement Conference:

With multiple outreach channels at your disposal, how do you efficiently utilize all of them to maximize customer engagement?

DK: Even with the emergence of digital communication channels and social media networks, we still have to provide traditional communications for a significant number of our customers. Consistency of messaging across all channels is a priority. We develop a detailed communications plan based on our market research each year to help us maintain that focus. Of course, any plan must be flexible enough to address issues that may present themselves throughout the year.

Community outreach is important. Our organization serves a wide geographic area. We hold a "Get Connected" Event in one region, where customers can gather with REC personnel to learn about their Cooperative, ask questions and meet employees. But to keep costs reasonable, we reach out to another region with a Telephone Town Hall event. Rotating these various types of events throughout our service territory provides multiple channels for all customers to engage with their Cooperative.

When looking at customer perceptions and preferences, what online methodologies are available to reduce time and space requirements?

DK: One example of employing online methodologies is our shift to online focus groups. Recently, we set out to determine the level of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative customer interest in a community solar program. We were looking for insight into how best to market a program like this, including the financial offer required to attract participation. We found the online version to be both cost-effective for the Cooperative and convenient for our participating customers.

Our Telephone Town Hall meetings are another example. We've been able to engage tens of thousands of customers in a live forum from the convenience of their own homes. This web-enabled technology allows our customers to ask questions directly of our CEO. Additionally, we are able to ask polling questions and address specific topics of interest to large numbers of people with this low cost solution.

Why is it important to empower your customers? How does this empowerment support energy efficiency or demand response initiatives?

DK: We see it as our responsibility to provide our customers with the tools and information they need to make good decisions regarding their energy use. Our customers are becoming increasingly engaged in digital and mobile technologies, and we want to provide solutions that fit their mobile lifestyle, such as two-way communicating programmable thermostats, text alerts and digital communications options. The more our customers understand how their actions can impact costs, the more likely they will be to take action to manage those costs.

How does Rappahannock utilize animated technology to increase engagement?

DK: We've been offering online energy calculators and other efficiency tools for years, but customer adoption has been low. While these tools can be useful, customers do not take the time to use them and they are not tied directly to the monthly bills. Additionally, we found that customers do not necessarily make the connection between changes in the weather and fluctuations in their monthly bill amount.

Earlier this year, REC launched a pilot program, working with Apogee Interactive, to send animated messages to customers whose monthly bills varied by $10 or more from the previous month. REC customers who receive the video bill messaging email can click on a link and watch a customized animation that explains the amount of change in the bill from the previous month. The animations break down elements of the consumers' most recent bills by explaining the impact of weather, number of days in the billing period, and other usage factors that may have prompted changes in the bill. We are still monitoring the program, but the initial reception has been overwhelmingly positive, with the email launch garnering an impressive 46 percent open rate and a 30 percent click-through rate. Ninety-five percent of customers found the information easy to understand, and 86 percent found the information useful.

What is your communication system for outage incidents?

DK: REC utilizes different communication strategies depending on the outage type. For instance, for planned outages, REC uses social media and outbound phone calls to get the message out. In a major outage, traditional media channels, social media, broadcast text messages and email channels may be employed.

Earlier this year, REC developed a new automated outage text alert system for routine, or less widespread, outage events. Customers experiencing an interruption of service who are enrolled in the program automatically receive text message alerts, informing them of the number of customers affected by the service interruption, estimated restoration time, and cause of the outage. The feedback from customers enrolled in the program continues to be positive.

Other elements of REC's communication system include an online outage center with a detailed outage map and summary page, and information on the power restoration process. Customers can report an outage by phone, or online using any web-enabled device.

David Koogler is the Vice President of Member and External Relations for Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC), one of the largest electric cooperatives in the U.S. REC serves over 160,000 customers in 22 counties, and is based in Fredericksburg, Virginia, just south of Washington, DC. Mr. Koogler is responsible for the strategic leadership of all customer support activities at REC, including regulatory and government affairs, communications and public relations, conservation and renewable energy programs, key accounts and economic development, as well as the coop's contact center, billing and collections functions. Mr. Koogler joined REC in March 2011.

He has extensive electric utility experience, having previously worked for more than 30 years for Dominion Virginia Power where he managed retail access, customer billing, rates and regulatory affairs, and key accounts. Mr. Koogler graduated magna cum laude from Washington and Lee University with a Bachelor of Science in Physics/Engineering and from Virginia Commonwealth University with a Master of Business Administration.

Join David at the Utility Customer Engagement Conference, February 24-25, 2016 in Miami, FL.

About Marcus evans

Marcus evans conferences annually produce over 2,000 high quality events designed to provide key strategic business information, best practice and networking opportunities for senior industry decision-makers. Our global reach is utilized to attract over 30,000 speakers annually; ensuring niche focused subject matter presented directly by practitioners and a diversity of information to assist our clients in adopting best practice in all business disciplines.

Image Available:

Contact Information