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Customer Engagement – Beyond Beaver Pelts

By March 24, 2014November 7th, 2021Energy Efficiency, Energy Rant

Last week I discussed behavior programs but in the larger sense, the fact that energy efficiency programs have traditionally treated people like animals.  They are treated like animals because they are essentially tricked into buying energy efficient appliances and doohickeys in exchange for cash rewards.  With some program exceptions, like custom efficiency and retrocommissioning, customers are not provided with information to make informed decisions.

Technology and innovation move much faster outside the utility program space[1].  For example, nearly all credit cards provide some sort of cash back or other perks that can be equated to dollars.  I leverage my “free” cash by purchasing gift cards from the card company’s partner retailers, restaurants, and so on.  For instance, I can get a $50 Starbucks card for $45 of “free money”.  What they do not have set up yet is taking the money out of my cash-back pile and transferring it right to my Starbucks card.  Instead, I have to mess with $50 cards they mail to me.  I log them in to my Starbucks account and throw them away immediately.  I then pay in the store with the Starbucks app on my phone.  No card.

I don’t like messing with cash, and I don’t even like credit cards that bulk up my wallet.  And check-writing is slightly more progressive than trading beaver pelts.  This I love: standing in line in a convenience store while somebody writes a check for gasoline, jug of milk, and a box of donuts.  These people should have their own line.

I consider myself a late-majority adopter of technology, but this is probably a little unfair considering the circles I’m comparing myself to.  Nevertheless, bleeding edge, I am not.  For instance, I bought an iPad merely to see what the hype was about.  Now, if I need to sign a beaver pelt, bring a pen because I don’t use them anymore.  The iPad and stylus almost completely replaced pen and paper.  Lose your pad of notes; what do you have?  Nothing.  Lose my iPad, what do I have – it’s all backed up in the cloud in real time.

There is enormous potential for moving efficiency programs into the 21st century with the use of smartphones and tablets, but to my knowledge, there is just a tiny bit of this here and there.  We could treat people as intelligent, reasoning decision-makers!

For instance, programs already keep extensive databases of qualifying equipment along with all the specifications required to do energy analysis on a prescriptive basis.  Why do customers not have access to this information?  Because it was unreasonable to write all this stuff on beaver pelts and stone tablets.

Not anymore.

There are phone apps for all kinds of stuff including bar code and QR code readers, but also temperature and light-level meters, just to name a couple.

In this day and age, there is no reason the power cannot be put into the hands of consumers, trade allies, and other stakeholders to present to customers all the information they need to make informed decisions.  Energy and financial calculation apps can be used to customize project-specific impacts for customers and the effects of buying energy efficient equipment for the life of the purchase.

Customers, or their representatives in case of larger commercial projects, could use their devices (phones or tablets) to scan bar codes of equipment to get the efficiency of the prospective equipment.  Cameras can easily be used to document receipts and signatures, even take photos of equipment on site.  In order to have access to the app, customers must[2] first set up an online account with their utility.  What utility wouldn’t like that?

Now you would have proposed and existing/baseline[3] equipment specifications, cost of energy, and other user-inputs desired to calculate savings versus existing equipment, and savings versus the cheapest, crappiest stuff the customer could buy at the time.  Examples for a purchase of an LED light bulb are shown in the table.

From here, turn it over to market research people and focus groups to get the message right.  One message I would suggest is purchasing this LED light bulb is like getting $9 at the checkout.  The buyer can also see how much their bills will decline when purchasing the item.  In this case, it’s less than 1%.  Control expectations.

But the calculation thing could be the minor benefit.  There are two other major benefits.  First, does it matter where the purchase is made?  No.  It could be,,, et al.  Incentives can be paid via normal channels or deducted from next month’s utility bill.  No touch.

Consider how much more participation there would be!  I can’t stand messing with paper, stamps, envelopes, pens, beaver pelts, waiting, and thinking about any of this.

Why not tie customer accounts, rebate processing, social media, monthly newsletter, billing and other things together for the packaged customer experience?  Give customers $10 to sign up.  Download the app.  Provide a searchable library of energy efficiency tips and tricks, videos and the whole 10 yards?

[1] I think I vowed to never use this overused term, but it’s like 1980s fashion now.  Back in style.  I declare.

[2] A possibility.

[3] Establish reasonable assumptions for baselines, or codes and standards as needed.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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