Utilities Markets Take Bold Steps to Increase Awareness
To meet ever-changing customer needs, utilities are increasingly launching online energy markets. However, with an average conversion rate for e-commerce sites between 2% and 3%, utilities remain a small part of an already crowded market.
To increase customer awareness and drive traffic, utilities are taking bold steps to differentiate their marketplaces from the plethora of options in today’s e-commerce landscape.
“I think utilities realize that if they don’t provide energy efficiency solutions to their customers, someone else will,” says Ryan Prestel, vice president of business development at Questline. Digital. “Utilities are looking for ways to meet customers where they are and offer them choices. They want to be seen as trusted advisors who provide proactive solutions to their clients. »
Education meets e-commerce
According to Felicia Chiles, director of marketing at FirstEnergy Corp., utilities should first view their marketplace as an educational resource, and second as an e-commerce platform. FirstEnergy has partnered with ibex, a company focused on creating customer experiences, to create a comprehensive energy marketplace designed to guide customers through their journey to smart home automation.
“When we entered the marketplace space, we didn’t want to be a point solution like Best Buy or Amazon where a consumer buys one thing and moves on,” Chiles says. “Our goal was to create a marketplace where our customers can go to a trusted resource for more information on smart home automation and energy efficiency, as well as to purchase products.”
Smart home automation is a complex subject – that’s why educational content is key to giving customers the confidence to make big purchases, like a smart home security system. Marketplace resources can be purely educational or provide step-by-step instructions on how customers can install or use the products. FirstEnergy House is peppered with in-depth content, including blog posts, interactive infographics, and videos, to help answer common customer questions.
“Ecommerce success takes more than selling — it also takes giving back,” says Charlie Garcia, editor at WP Dev Shed, a website development company. “By helping your target audience find answers to their everyday problems, you become useful.”
Build it and they will come?
While utilities build e-commerce sites with the best of intentions, marketplaces are not a “build it and they will come” solution. Before customers can visit a market, they must first know it exists. That is why ongoing promotions are essential for raising awareness.
“Utilities will wonder why they are not attracting visitors to their market. My question for them is, ‘Do your customers even know this exists? Have you done anything to educate them on the benefits and how to use it? “Says Prestel. “You can’t expect customers to find your market and discover it on their own. If you don’t make it easy for them, they’ll just go somewhere else.
FirstEnergy Home uses blog posts, videos and informational graphics to educate customers about products on the market and how they fit into their daily lives. Content is shared in emails, on social media and throughout the website to keep the market top of mind with customers. The utility also takes advantage of seasonal changes and milestones, such as moving, for relevant and timely product promotions.
“There are different ways to use smart home automation that customers haven’t really considered before,” Chiles says. “Back to school, for example, is the perfect time to promote the benefits of smart home products to parents whose children are going home alone. We invest a lot of time and effort in content and promotions.
The power of personalization
Utilities are leveraging personalized content to reach segments of customers, whether they are tenants, homeowners, new families or seniors. An example is sending personalized market promotions to tenants with energy efficiency products ideal for apartment living. With the right message, public services can deliver value to a target audience.
“If done correctly, email marketing can be a very effective consumer engagement approach,” says James Rehm, chief operating officer at Skuuudle, a retail analytics company. . “The goal here is not to send an email to your customers, but to do it correctly and with the right message. Never overdo it.
The utilities also use behavioral emails, triggered when a customer leaves a page, abandons their cart, or makes a purchase. For example, when a customer purchases a smart thermostat from FirstEnergy Home, they automatically receive an email with information about the utility’s installation services.
“It saves customers from having a frustrating experience and helps us manage returns,” Chiles says. “Once they get home and find the installation a bit tricky, they know we have a service available to install the product for them.”
Taking customization a step further, FirstEnergy Home bundles select products and services to meet the unique needs of different customer segments. For example, the Utility’s Energy Efficiency Starter Kit includes a Google Nest, Google Nest Thermostat and Sengled Smart Wi-Fi LED bulbs. we know they work well together,” Chiles says. “It makes it easier for them to get into smart home automation.”
Customer experience expectations
Utilities are revamping their marketplaces to ensure customers have the kind of user experience they expect from other e-commerce sites. For example, utilities organize products into easy-to-find categories, provide customer reviews, use abandoned cart emails, and other e-commerce best practices.
“The consumerization of everything is upon us, and utility customers expect the convenience, flexibility and choice they have become accustomed to in their daily lives,” Prestel says. “Traditionally, utilities weren’t able to provide a comparable experience, but that’s changing. In the future, an exceptional customer experience will be a requirement, not an asset. »
A key element of a quality customer experience is an easy-to-use, intuitive website that makes it easy for visitors to find products, services and educational resources. The more complicated an e-commerce site is, the less likely customers are to return in the future.
“The easier a site is to use and use, the happier the customer will be and the more likely they are to return to it,” says John Cammidge, CEO and founder of e-commerce and advertising firm JTC Consultants. “Your site is a reflection of your brand, so it’s vital that it works fully across all formats. Many companies neglect to optimize their sites for mobile use, which causes them to miss out. Usability is crucial.
According to Cammidge, using industry best practices in the payment process builds trust and ensures a smooth and streamlined process. Additionally, utilities should be clear about shipping and other potentially hidden costs at the outset of the transaction.
“It builds trust and allows the customer to make an informed decision,” says Cammidge. “Limit the number of clicks needed to complete the payment and make the process as easy as possible for your customer. Putting the customer journey at the center is the best way to increase your chances of success.”
As more and more customers shop for smart homes and energy efficiency, online marketplaces will be an expectation in the future. Utilities need to find ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors and provide customers with the personalized experience they want. With the right strategy and user experience, marketplaces are a great opportunity to deliver value, be a reliable energy resource, and improve long-term customer satisfaction.
“We don’t want to compete with the distribution giants. It would be a waste of time,” Chiles says. “What we can do is play our own game…Offer products and services in a unique way and be a trusted advisor to our customers.”
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