Melissa Greenwood, Manager of Communications, Ravalli Electric Co-op, Mont.

COVID 19 made a dramatic impact on all our lives, both personally and professionally. Many individuals and organizations alike are looking for ways to fill the engagement void that has been created.

Last month Northwest Public Power Association (NWPPA) offered a free online communications panel discussion, Engaging Members During the Pandemic. I joined utility pioneer panelists Theresa Phillips from Lassen Municipal Utility District, Calif., Neil Neroutsos, from Chelan County PUD, Wash., and Julee Cunningham from Snohomish County PUD, Wash.

Miss the webinar? Here are my top five takeaways from the online session, each focused on how to keep our consumers engaged during this unique time.

1. Embrace Digital

We are lucky to have advanced technology at our fingertips. Use these tools when you can’t engage face to face. NWPPA’s online panel discussion is a perfect example! Although we couldn’t speak to you in person, we found a way to connect and engage with public power communicators via webinar.

  • Engage consumers through social media. Facebook Live is a great, real-time way to connect with consumers.
  • If you can’t host your annual meeting this year due to pandemic restrictions, try streaming your meeting live instead.
  • Test consumers’ electricity knowledge with Tuesday Trivia and a chance to win company swag or LED light bulbs.
  • Create a vlog featuring different employees each week. This is a wonderful way to keep your membership up to date on the state of your business and reinforcing the message to consumers that you are still here and working hard for them.

This is an ideal time to encourage and promote online account use like SmartHub. Create a social media campaign offering a $10 bill credit if consumers sign up for autopay or paperless billing. It will help them adjust to office doors being closed and make them happy to save on their bill!

2. Network & Partner with Other Organizations

During a crisis, there is no better time to partner up. Embrace your local community by supporting neighboring businesses and networks. You may be able to help other businesses in ways you hadn’t thought of, and vice versa. By constantly reinforcing similar messages with other groups and organizations in your service territory, people will feel more connected in your community.

If you have the room and your business is open, offer it up to others. Host a community blood drive or allow a group to meet in your conference room for their monthly meeting if their meeting place is unavailable.

Don’t forget to engage local media. Even if you don’t have an event to promote or advertise, create a special message to send to consumers in the local newspaper or through your favorite radio station.

Sponsor a message of thanks to medical teams in the community for their efforts during the pandemic. Your consumers will see and hear those messages and your trusted media sources will appreciate your support in advertising during these challenging times.

3. It’s the Little Things…

Our oldest consumers are having a hard time with the disruption of normalcy and routine in their lives. They may not be able to come into the office to pay their bill and must log in to their account from a website they are unfamiliar with.

For some consumers, adjusting to technology is a major life event.

While phone calls to the office in the past are typically short and sweet, call volume and length of conversation in the past 6 months has increased. Consumers need more assistance with tasks normally handled face to face.

A little extra patience and the gift of time can go a long way. Taking an extra 15 minutes on the phone to assure them you can help and walk them through a process will ease their worries. While you’re at it, ask them how their day is going. That conversation with their local utility company might just be the highlight of their day.

4. It’s a Team Effort

When it comes to communicating and engaging with the people you serve, it’s not just about the communications team. This is the best time for all hands on deck to reach out and work together. Encourage your co-workers to engage with consumers in any way they can.

Stock utility trucks with co-op swag so when your line crew encounters a consumer, they can leave them with a gift.

Offer a paperwork or bill payment exchange outside the office doors if your lobby is closed. Find volunteer opportunities in the community to work on together. Your consumers are also your neighbors. Show them you care beyond just providing them power.

5. Find Opportunities to Surprise and Delight

Ravalli Electric Co-op organized a bucket truck brigade for a young member.

Even though consumers are practicing social distancing, they are still seeking a sense of belonging and connection, perhaps even more now than before. Try to find ways to make them feel valued and cared for. Is there something you can do to simply spread joy?

At Ravalli Electric, we sent a surprise birthday brigade of lineman bearing gifts of company swag to a young consumer’s home on their birthday.

Need more ideas?

  • Make a pandemic cuisine cookbook full of your employee’s favorite recipes and mail it out in a care package to consumers who have been with you the longest.
  • Turn your annual Consumer Appreciation Day into a grab-and-go event where consumers can drive by, grab some lunch, receive a gift, and see your smiling faces.
  • Do you have a scholarship program? Go above and beyond and instead of giving away five scholarships, give everyone who applied a scholarship!

Unusual times call for creative measures. Some of us may have a little extra time on our hands this year with limited travel this year and meetings and conferences being cancelled. This is the perfect time to brainstorm and get those creative juices flowing!

Surprising and delighting consumers strengthens your connection with them and creates new fans of your utility.

The pandemic is one of the biggest challenges society has experienced in a generation. It not only tests us personally but also tests our professional will. By embracing these changes and learning new ways of keeping the people we serve engaged, we will put ourselves in the best position to survive and even thrive during and after the pandemic.

NWPPA offers virtual learning opportunities throughout the year.

Current NWPPA Opportunites