Engaging low income consumers in demand side management programs


Washington, DC, U.S.A. — (METERING.COM) — June 27, 2013 – Providers must customize their demand side management (DSM) program to meet their low income customers’ lifestyles and needs, with the offering needing to both make sense and offer value, a new report from the DEFG recommends.

Further, high-touch interactions are critical to relationship building with low income populations, and a linkage between cash assistance, bill pay and energy management must be strongly established.

Energy providers (utilities, competitive providers and others) have long struggled to effectively engage with low income customers and also to meet business requirements for the management of bad debt and debt recovery. As a means to look anew at questions pertaining to engaging with and serving low income customers, in the spring of 2013 DEFG created the Low Income Energy Issues Forum (LIEIF), comprised of consumer advocates, regulatory commissioners, utilities and energy suppliers, government agencies and non-profit administrators, and others.

The Forum’s first report addresses the issues of engaging and enrolling low income customers in DSM programs. Four distinct but complementary approaches from practitioners in the field are described. These are:

  • Outreach approach, in which the key to continued engagement is building relationships and trust, and there is a need to recognize socio-cultural dynamics
  • Behavioral approach, in which a prioritized set of behavioral outcomes sets the stage for influential program design, and the quality of a customer’s experience influences a wide range of behavior (e.g. loyalty or advocacy)
  • Partnership approach, in which stakeholder communication is key, with defined processes and procedures in place, and it is critical to understand funders’ goals
  • Transactional approach, in which thinking is holistic to move from a binary look at transactions toward a complete customer experience, and technology is leveraged to achieve business goals and deliver better customer experience.

From these and the experiences of the practitioners and other Forum members, other general recommendations include the need for communications to be straightforward regarding a household’s potential energy savings. Customer cost savings achieved through energy efficiency measures should also lead to lower energy bills and help cover or offset any gaps that may exist from diminished assistance funding.

Providers should also be able to serve a broader group of customers with potentially the same cost infrastructure.