Ask the Expert: How Do You Build Successful Customer Engagement?

Question: How Do You Build Successful Customer Engagement for Efficiency or Distributed Energy Programs?

Gita Subramony, ERS, for Zondits

Answer: Energy efficiency and distributed energy incentive programs, along with technical assistance programs, have not only been driving forces for utility resource acquisition, but have also helped transform the market for efficient equipment, emerging technologies, and distributed energy technologies. By buying down the first costs for new technologies or reducing soft costs associated with assessing the business impacts of such projects, these programs help remove uncertainty on technology performance and reduce risk for the project developer or end user. However, program administrators must build interest in these programs. Many PAs often make use of third-party firms to increase awareness of these programs and provide a trusted information source to customers. What are some strategies these teams use to build customer engagement?

  1. Assess best-fit customers – Based on the technology or sector that the program is targeting, it is essential to develop profiles for the “best-fit” customer. This might include building load profiles or data on energy-use intensity or building usage. Making use of publically available data including benchmarking and demographic data helps narrow the field of potential targets.
  2. Create sector-specific outreach plans – Based on customer best-fit data, it is important to understand customer-specific pain points and barriers in order to better address them. Whether it is capital constraints or skepticism about the technology, a successful outreach program identifies those barriers across the population of potential targets and delivers messaging to overcome those barriers.
  3. Make use of case studies – Case studies with information that is meaningful to the customer are helpful tools to demonstrate technology use and viability. Customers often want to see how previous projects were planned, what financing mechanisms were available, and how previously installed systems are performing. Case studies that contain salient information that address customer concerns can help end users see how certain technologies can benefit their organizations.
  4. Use both top-down and bottom-up outreach strategies – Both are needed to successfully connect with customers. A top-down approach might include broad education campaigns on a technology or incentive program, and that strategy might include webinars, tours, or presentations. However, those activities alone will likely not motivate individual customers to participate in the programs. A bottom-up approach where programs proactively engage individual customers and guide them through the process is required to ensure that clean energy projects move forward.
  5. Pair marketing campaigns with sound technical assistance and advice – PAs can play a vital role as a trusted information source. In order to ensure that well-designed projects are installed, combining outreach campaigns with solid technical assistance is essential. In order to de-risk technologies, high level guidance on technology performance and what to look for in vendor proposals can accelerate customer decision-making.

If you have an energy efficiency-related question, ask the expert at