Five Best Practices for Managing Seasonal Utility Bill Surprises

Ryan OrendorfBlog, UtilitiesLeave a Comment

utility bill

Seeing an unexpected spike in a utility bill can ruin anyone’s day. In fact, according to Oracle, a higher than expected utility bill doubles the chance a customer will switch their electric provider. Here are some simple strategies utility communicators can use to engage with customers ahead of and during periods which lead to higher bills to eliminate the monthly bill fear factor.

1. Teach Customers How to Avoid Surprises

Utilities have an in-depth understanding of the possible factors causing bill increases for customers. Most of the time it’s a simple energy or water use increase by customers, but seasonal rates, shifting weather patterns and other variables could be at play as well.

This creates an opportunity for utility companies to get ahead of possible bill increases and inform customers about how to avoid them. Publishing and sharing a list of quick tips can help raise awareness. Recommending LED lights, regular HVAC system maintenance and even simply closing drapes and blinds in the summer can all win points with customers. An earned media feature about a customer who’s made energy and water saving upgrades at home could also help persuade other customers to consider doing the same.

2. Prepare Customers for What’s Coming

Bill increases tend to hit hardest in areas with extreme summer or winter temperatures when air conditioners or heaters are running nonstop, so be proactive ahead of time. A simple earned or social media campaign and bill inserts sent to homes and businesses concerning possible bill increases could go a long way toward creating goodwill and acceptance.

Be careful about delving into specifics on the dollar amount or the percentage of a possible bill increase. Even if utilities have an excellent grasp on the variables, any error in this estimate could undo the positive perception brought on by the campaign.

3. Provide a Variety of Billing Options

Utilities serve a wide variety of customers with a diverse set of needs and should offer options that help give customers more control over their bills.

Budget billing programs allow customers to spread their use across 11 equal monthly payments, with the difference being settled in the 12th month. This means customers can stay well aware of their payments for most of the year, with only one month varying in price.

Similarly, levelized billing sets monthly expenditures based on the rolling average of the previous year. This does not set a precise monthly bill, but the rolling average helps ensure variances will not be inordinately high.

While options such as budget and levelized billing are not possible in every area, utilities can tailor these programs and offer others (such as automatic payment and payment assistance programs) to meet local needs and remind their customers they are available.

4. Open a Dedicated Hotline

No matter how strong and varied their communications plans, utilities are unlikely to reach all customers that could be affected by bill fluctuations. Even if customers are aware, they may still have questions or complaints. This can be remedied by opening a dedicated phone or email hotline staffed by customer service experts who can answer all inquiries candidly and honestly.

The contact details should be shared with customers several months before bill increases could hit. This allows customers to familiarize themselves with the concept and helps portray the utility as proactive, helpful and caring.

5. Pass Savings on to Customers

This may not work for all utilities, but when Pepco, which provides electricity to over 300,000 people in the Washington DC area, benefited the 2017 federal tax cut bill, it passed savings on to customers.

While this strategy is not directly related to managing utility bill hikes, it could build long-term goodwill that enhances a utility’s reputation. Tax credit, rebate and incentive programs can also help. These initiatives can allow customers to be progressive, practical and economical in their energy choices while also helping to lower their monthly bills.

While utility bill surprises can’t be totally prevented, a little proactive communication goes a long way in letting customers know you’re here to serve them and to watch out for their wallets.

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