Nearly one third of LMI customers struggled to pay an electric bill but they aren’t asking utilities for help
Uplight, the technology partner of energy providers transitioning to the clean energy ecosystem, today announced results from its market research study showing that customers, especially those with low-to-moderate (LMI) income would benefit from personalized outreach from their utilities in order to take advantage of programs offered.
Uplight’s energy customer research found that in the last year, 32% of lower-income customers reported struggling to pay an electric bill, three times the rate of higher-income customers. On the other hand, LMI customers report they aren’t asking for the help they need with only 17% of LMI customers reaching out to their utility about a high bill or to ask for assistance in paying. Although most utilities offer a wide variety of programs that can help customers reduce or pay their bills, customers continue to lack awareness of the programs available to them, and need more engagement from utilities to help them find and understand the ones that would benefit them most.
Other Research Highlights:
LMI customers have less trust and awareness of utility programs – LMI customers show a consistent lack of awareness of utility programs overall, creating a significant opportunity for utilities to improve customer education and engagement in all communication touch points including call centers, email, mail, online portals and bill inserts.
- LMI customers are 10% less likely than higher income customers to have used tips and are aware of or have used rebates. LMI customers also showed lower awareness than high income customers of online audits, HERs, marketplace, EV support, Time of Use (ToU) and demand response programs. This gap was also reflected in efficient purchases: 10% fewer LMI customers reported purchasing LED light bulbs in the last year, and 13% fewer reported purchasing smart thermostats.
- Over a third of LMI customers (37%) and over one quarter of the sample overall (27%) reported postponing purchases in order to afford to pay utility bills, so increasing awareness of programs is especially urgent. While 72% of LMI customers agreed that using less energy is a good way to cut monthly spending, only half reduced their energy usage.
Customers are caught off-guard by their energy bills – In this past year marked by the pandemic, customers have more on their minds and aren’t actively monitoring their energy usage, leading frequently to bill shock. Avoiding surprises for customers means helping push information to the customer including tools such as high bill alerts and mid-month bill projections to make it easier for customers to monitor their electricity use. Subscription billing can also help ensure bill consistency from month to month. According to the Uplight customer research:
- A third of customers (35%) have gone online to check their usage between bills, and over half of customers (59%) were sometimes, often or always surprised by the amount of their electricity bill.
- Consistent with this monitoring behavior, 41% of customers were “very” or “extremely” interested in receiving high bill alerts.
Utilities have significant opportunities to better educate and engage customers – Interest in utility offers is high, and for many customers who are aware of available programs, many haven't successfully acted yet. There is an opportunity for utilities to ramp up personalized promotions and insights, nudge customers based on their profile and projected savings, and provide a seamless process to enroll in a program or make a purchase so that customers who want to engage can do so easily.
- When told about them, 62% of customers are very or extremely interested in free energy efficiency products, while only 27% have used a utility efficiency program or product and only 43% are aware of them.
- 41% of customers are interested in demand response programs, but only 14% have enrolled in a program.
Customers are consulting their utility more frequently for information for advanced technology purchases – Customers see their utilities as trusted energy advisors for bigger ticket items that could have a larger impact on their electricity usage.
- Between 39% and 49% of purchasers reported consulting their utility for information about EV, whole-home battery, rooftop solar, and induction stove purchases made in the last year.
“In the past, customers have had a transactional relationship with their utilities focused on just paying their bill so they aren’t always aware of the robust program offerings utilities have to serve their needs such as rebates, marketplaces, bill alerts and demand management,” said Jay Grinde, Chief Customer Officer at Uplight. “Today's forward thinking utilities are focused on helping customers save more of their hard earned money, and reduce energy use as we collectively aim to hit ambitious decarbonization goals. The success of these programs requires a more personalized approach that helps build awareness and encourages customers to take critical steps to use less energy.”
Uplight partnered with See Change Institute to conduct its second annual nationally representative survey of 1,000 utility customers from the United States. Utilities interested in learning more about survey findings can sign up for a webinar on May 23rd at 1 pm ET.
- eBook: Engaging Low-Income Customers in the 21st Century
- Webinar: Bridging the Gap: Exceeding Modern Energy Customer Expectations
- 2020 Research from Uplight
Uplight is the technology partner for energy providers and the clean energy ecosystem. Uplight’s software solutions connect energy customers to the decarbonization goals of power providers while helping customers save energy and lower costs, creating a more sustainable future for all. Using the industry’s only comprehensive customer-centric technology suite and critical energy expertise across disciplines, Uplight is streamlining the complex transition to the clean energy ecosystem for more than 80 electric and gas utilities around the world. By empowering energy providers to achieve critical outcomes through data-driven customer experiences, delivering control at the grid edge, creating new revenue streams and optimizing existing load and assets, Uplight shares a mission with its clients to make energy more sustainable for every community. Uplight is a certified B Corporation. To learn more, visit us at www.uplight.com, find us on Twitter @Uplight or on LinkedIn at Linkedin.com/company/uplightenergy.