Meeting Your Customers Where They’re At—With Empathy
Following a harrowing couple of years and an increasing number of layoffs, customers with flawless payment histories are suddenly finding themselves coming up short. Your utility offers flexible payment options and financial assistance programs, but enrollments aren’t as robust as you’d expect them to be.
Why? Paralyzed by shame or a fear of the unknown, a percentage of customers will slip into denial about their financial situations. No matter how prominent your payment plans are on your website, your customers aren’t going there.
So, where are they going instead? Anywhere they can escape: their phones, social media, podcasts…even traditional media outlets like broadcast news.
CIRCUMVENTING THE SHAME SHIELD
Shame is a powerful motivator—to do absolutely nothing. Rather than relying on delinquent customers to seek out your programs, proactive outreach is vital. However, proactive outreach without a trace of empathy will drive your customers further away. Embed empathy into your message, and you’ve got a solid strategy for increasing enrollments.
1. PARTNER WITH AN EXPERT IN COMMUNICATIONS
If you’re already working with a communications company to engage your customers, see what additional solutions are available.
One of the easiest and most effective ways to influence customer behavior is to reach them where they spend most of their time—on their mobile phones. From baby boomers to millennials, Americans spend an average of more than five hours a day on mobile devices.
When communicating an empathetic message flow via mobile, utility DPA enrollments have increased by 21%. Furthermore, this method of outreach significantly reduces inbound call center activity.
Communicating to customers with an empathetic message flow via mobile has increased DPA enrollments by 21%
Allowing an industry expert to handle this type of outreach also minimizes the lift from your IT Department and ensures quick deployment.
2. THINK OUTSIDE THE BOOK (FACEBOOK, THAT IS)
While Facebook and its cousins, Twitter and Instagram, continue to be excellent resources for sharing news, you’re missing out if you don’t include Nextdoor in your social media mix.
More than 3,000 public agencies in the U.S. use this neighborhood-based social media tool to distribute information to more than 10 million households across 145,000 neighborhoods.
Utilities like Southern California Edison already use Nextdoor to share outage news and updates with customers. Sharing information about Deferred Payment Assistance and Financial Relief Programs is a natural next step.
Post a link that guides your target audience through an empathetic DPA enrollment process and see just how quickly this “good news” goes viral with grateful customers willing to share with family and friends.
3. HARNESS THE POWER OF LOCAL MEDIA
An empathetic approach works well with all audiences, including the media. Like most everyone else, your local news outlets are under a lot of pressure right now. Reporters and editorial staff continue to provide relevant information with fewer advertising dollars. Their resources are stretched thin, and with COVID-19 dominating every aspect of our lives, the demand for timely news is more significant than ever.
Don’t waste time sending a news release to the wires. A 2018 journalism survey noted 53% of reporters don’t rely on news releases at all.
Instead, identify a local reporter who covers human interest stories or public affairs. Target someone who has covered similar stories in the past. Reach out via social media, connect on LinkedIn, send an email, and pick up the phone.
With empathy in mind, make it easy on them. Pitch a “shareable” story they can republish verbatim or with a few simple tweaks. (Worthy of mentioning, the same survey noted more than 41% of journalists consider potential shareability when deciding what to publish.)
Include a trackable link to a landing page that clearly articulates your Payment Assistance options. If you have visibility into whether they have visited, follow up and offer to further clarify the program. If the page explaining your program is accessible to account holders only, consider creating a media-specific page for better tracking.
In the story you hope to have published, make sure your call to action is clear, including specific links to your DPA enrollment flow.
4. HEAR, HEAR
While U.S. podcast consumption hasn’t quite returned to pre-pandemic levels, recent reports indicate this medium is showing resiliency. What’s more, podcast ads can be turned around quickly and geo-targeted to listeners. They also enjoy a longer shelf life than do radio ads.
If advertising isn’t in your budget, approach this channel with the same tactic you would with local news. Identify regional podcasts that appeal to listeners in your area. You may even be able to approach the podcast host and receive free publicity.
And don’t forget…most podcasts include “show notes” beneath their episodes. Ask if you can include a link here to drive customers to the channel that hosts your empathetic DPA enrollment process.
5. DIRECT MAIL ISN’T DEAD
If a segment of your customers has yet to go paperless, take advantage of what you’re already sending—their billing statements.
Avoid merely adding a line of copy to their bill that explains the program; it’s likely to be overlooked—and depending on how delinquent they are, may even remain unopened.
Instead, create an eye-catching, empathetic “advertisement” on the outside of the envelope that directs them to text a keyword to understand their options, enroll, transact, and resolve their needs.
Don’t forget the envelope, drop a “Why didn’t we just text this to you?” hint and include a QR code, too, if possible. (QR codes are currently enjoying an uptick in popularity, thanks to their no-contact transfer of information.)
Leverage Express Consent and TCPA safe harbors to deliver digital experience directly to your customer’s mobile devices. With so many people confined to their homes right now—and many more not working—the right digital touch is a welcome diversion in an otherwise uneventful day.
THE ART OF EMPATHETIC ENGAGEMENT
Even under the best circumstances, customer engagement is a challenge. Now, during a time when many customers are experiencing significant financial impact, show you are doing everything possible to help by proactively and empathetically communicating payment options.
If you’re interested in hearing how Message Broadcast’s turnkey digital engagement solutions can ensure that your customers take advantage of the programs you have available, we’re always excited to share what’s working.