EMC’s First VIRTUAL PANEL ON CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT

By Jack Doueck

On Wednesday July 11th 2018, EMCs hosted its first semi-annual Virtual Panel entitled “Customer Engagement Techniques for Customer Retention”

I was the moderator and the panel consisted of three senior retail energy professionals and three customer engagement experts. The retailers were: Alan Schwab (President and COO of Genie Energy),Bill Kinneary (former President of North American Power and CEO of Powervine Energy), and Kevin McMinn (former CEO of USG&E and current Sr. VP of Sales at Crius). 

The retention experts included Bruce Shields of Data Communications Management, Daniel Seaman of Optimus and Ty Benefiel of Meter Genius. Over 100 attendees from around the country watched and listened to the panel of experts discuss and argue the points. 

We started the event with a few slides about the vicious cycle of churn. After spending about 14 years in this industry, I believe the biggest challenge to growth is the incessant churn that plagues companies throughout the competitive energy industry.   Churn leads to increased CTA which leads to increased pricing which leads to more drops in a classic vicious cycle. 

We spoke about the techniques REPs are utilizing to differentiate their offerings and increase customer retention.  Some of these included: Smart phone Apps, A/C Filters, Dining dollars, Airline points, Periodic Cash rebates, LED bulbs, Energy efficiency tips, Surveys, Reward points that lead to discounts on entertainment, Discounts to go Solar or Community Solar, Refer a friend offers, Small gifts such as cell phone chargers/blue tooth speakers, Free weekends and sometimes even free month(s) of electricity;

We also spoke about bundling commodity with other products and services – in an attempt to differentiate the offering and tether customers to the REP.  It seemed clear that specific, targeted customer engagement, combined with any of these bundles, does have a direct effect on customer satisfaction and retention.

The energy efficiency bundles included: Smart thermostats, LEDs, HVAC Management/maintenance Systems, Boiler Management Systems, Insulation, Appliance Monitoring, Energy Storage, Solar, Demand Response, Consumption Tracking and Water Conservation Devices.

Some of the Home Service Bundles included: Air Filters, Home Warranties, Wifi, Alarm, VOIP/telecom, Residential Security, Video, Monitors for Elderly, Plumbing Services and Other Smart Home Tech.

Other bundles included: Hulu (or HBO or Netflix) Subscriptions, Roadside Assistance , Virtual MD, “Branded” Frequent Flyer Points, Loyalty Points and Identity Protection.

Alan Schwab, who is a member of the Advisory Board of Energy Marketing Conferences, and who had the idea for this Semi-Annual Virtual Panel commented that churn usually follows the acronym: “PACE”: Plan Rollover, Agent Behavior, Communication (or lack of ongoing communication), and Education.

Kevin McMinn suggested that REPs be careful evaluating alternatives and spend a lot of time focused on both cost as well as on the specific customer group that is targeted and what their respective preferences are.  Kevin also mentioned that his company is in every deregulated territory, so any program has to have the breadth, scale and footprint to cover all Crius customers.

Bill Kinneary, also a member of the EMC Advisory Board, had strong feelings on this subject and spent time describing his vision of an REP that is truly customer-focused, retentive and communicative.  He didn’t completely discount Kevin’s focus on cost of engagement techniques, but did mention that cost comes second to service and communication as the cost (or “net present value”) of acquiring a customer skyrockets with churn so retention techniques very often make a huge difference in the profitability of an REP.

After the event, surveys went out and overall the audience rated the Virtual Panel a 9 out of 10.  Future panels will include:  M&A, Retailers and Brokers, International Expansion, Operational Excellence, Compliance/Regulatory success, Green Products and Services, Bundling, Wholesale Supply Agreements and Channel Partnerships.  The next semi-annual panel will take place on Tuesday January 8th 2019 at 11:00am EST.   Click HERE to see the recorded video and audio of the Virtual Panel.  Click HERE to register for the next one!

The next Energy Marketing Conference will take place on October 11th 2018 at the Midtown Hilton.  We expect this to be our largest event ever.  Click HERE to register and use the code EMCNewYork20 to save 20%

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Jack Doueck is Co-Founder and Principal of Advanced Energy Capital (energy finance), LED PLUS (customer retention) and Energy Marketing Conferences.