By Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia, Inc.
Some readers might remember way, way back in 2011, PriMedia published “The Oilheat Customer Bunch” calendar, which profiled a different customer-character for each month of the year. For example, there was April’s “Worry Wart” who “calls every time she hears a noise in the basement” and August’s “Glutton” who “has inefficient equipment manufactured in 1955.”
A lot can happen in a year, let alone seven of them. Fuel dealers continue to encounter many of the same “types” of customers, but as the energy marketer’s tool kit has evolved to include things such as customer informatics, automated messaging, and targeted advertising (just to name a few), we can now identify and communicate with those customers as never before.
No longer is our understanding of customer profiles limited to basic sales demographics like gender and age. Now, using readily available data, companies can target both customers and prospects with precision accuracy and timeliness, promoting to them exactly what they need, exactly when they need it, with a message intended for their eyes only. It’s not speculative fiction. It’s not the future, though it will likely be a big part of that as well. Personalized marketing is here now and available to any energy marketer who’s willing to take the next step in promoting his/her business.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the tools that make personalized marketing possible, along with some marketing tactics companies might deploy for certain customers. However, this is just an overview, and if you’re reading this at the Southern New England Energy Conference or planning to attend the Empire State Energy Conference, be sure to catch our seminars on personalized marketing.
What do you know about your customers? Of course, you know their names, addresses, phone numbers and (at least hopefully) their email addresses. You also know their account numbers, tank sizes and locations, and whether or not they’re on automatic delivery, price protection and service plans, etc. This is all a given.
But let’s look closer. What else do you know about your customers? Using your fuel delivery management software, you should be able to determine the customer’s average usage rate and delivery drop size. If you use lead-tracking software, which you definitely should, you also know how often and when they call for certain services. And if your staff is doing its due diligence, you should have some other helpful pieces of information on file; for example, the age and make of the customer’s current heating or air conditioning system or, if the customer came to your company from a competitor, who the previous fuel supplier was, etc.
The fact is, you most likely “know” a lot more about your customers than you, or even they, realize. These customer informatics, or data, rest comfortably in your back-office software just waiting to be put to good use. If you employ PriMedia business intelligence solutions such as inVue Customer Account Management, LeadPro Lead Tracking, PricePoint Price Protection Enrollment, or ServicePoint Real Time Contract Enrollment, you should recognize that these are all great places to start compiling customer data. (For a deeper discussion of where customer data comes from, check out “Behind the Numbers,” from the July 2017 issue.)
Chances are your customer service team, sales force, and IT partners have all accessed this data. Your CSRs might use it to follow up on service calls, your salespeople might use it to follow up on leads, and tech support might review it in order to check on any back-end issues. However, all of those tasks are reactive, and today’s homeowners are looking for their service companies to be proactive and anticipatory. This is where the aforementioned PriMedia platforms provide an unprecedented advantage over generic software not engineered specifically for the home comfort industry.
If the winter of 2017-2018 proved anything to energy marketers, it’s that planning ahead is no longer good enough. In addition to planning, you need to act. That means anticipating your customers’ needs and meeting them early before weather conditions, supply constraints, and other variables can get in the way. Fortunately, because you have all this data on-hand, you’re halfway there, as you have the tools required to anticipate your customers’ individual needs.
At this point, you might be thinking: “Great! Now you want me to have my customer service people comb through thousands and thousands of customer accounts and call or email everyone who’s likely to skip their next tune-up? By the time they’re finished, it’ll be February!”
Rest assured, that’s not what we have in mind. With PriMedia’s inVue Customer Account Management tool, you can have automated messages sent to your customers’ online portals, so they get exactly the info they need as soon as they log into their account. You can also have messages sent via email or text, customize the messages that are sent to each type of customer, and do it all without having your CSRs lift a finger.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should send your whole team home. You’re still going to need them to answer calls, follow up on leads, and do all the things customer service people are supposed to do in the first place, the things you hired them to do. What it means, however, is that they can now do those jobs better, because the customers they’re interacting with are more in the loop and aware that your company is thinking about them 24/7.
In addition to bestowing your company with that tech-savvy quality today’s customers crave, automated messaging empowers your CSRs and salespeople to make better, i.e. more profitable, use of their time. Furthermore, because inVue provides a complete 360-degree view of your customer relationship management activities, your team leaders can more closely monitor how their people are using that time and establish proactive initiatives or benchmarks to help ensure they hit their numbers.
Better still, the data available in your back-end software can help show you what those “numbers” really should be, so you can have your team leaders move the goal posts accordingly. It’s important to remember that personalized marketing and personalized services go hand-in-hand, so even though automated messaging occurs independent of your CSRs, they need to be cognizant of what’s going on and continue to treat customers like people, not numbers. Ideally, automated messaging will only make CSRs more productive, but it may also help root out any under-performing assets.
This kind of holistic integration, where each enhancement on the back-end boosts your numbers on the service side and vice-versa, is the cornerstone of a proactive customer relationship management strategy. And it’s something that becomes more and more necessary in the energy-marketing space, as companies look for new ways to solidify their customer lists, increase revenue and stand out from the competition.
Now, let’s say you have three customers, all of whom just happen to be in need of a new home heating system, but each for different reasons.
- Customer A has a boiler that was installed only 10 years ago, but it wasn’t put in by your guys so it’s never really worked great and to be honest, the thing’s a real clunker. Therefore, let’s call this customer Mr. Clunker.
- Customer B has a furnace that’s 30 years old and truly on its last legs. The only problem is this customer will do whatever it takes to hold on to a buck, which is why, in his mind, it makes sense to keep putting off the replacement. Let’s call this guy Mr. Miser.
- Customer C has a boiler that’s 15 years old, working soundly and could probably hang on for a few more years. However, a new natural gas line is being installed on her street, and that’s got the customer thinking about converting. The only way to stop her is to convince her she will be better off with an upgrade. We’ll call her Ms. Follower.
Your goal for all three of these customers is exactly the same, but it’s safe to say that the same sales pitches won’t work for each of them. Personalized marketing can let you send the messaging that will resonate with the right customer.
- You have a marketing campaign set up for customers who need frequent service calls. As part of this group, Mr. Clunker will receive promotions that position upgrades as a way to reduce the chance of no-heat emergencies, ice-cold showers and 2 a.m. service calls! Since service has been an issue, let’s also offer Mr. Clunker and this group a free service plan with their upgrade.
- You have another campaign set up for the penny-pincher customers. The ones whose equipment is limping along thanks to your ongoing triage, but for one reason or another won’t make the leap to a new unit. Mr. Miser and his ilk need to be convinced that a new unit is a money-saving investment, and they want a deal, too. Their promotions will highlight the savings they’ll see in their monthly heating bills, your low-interest financing, and any manufacturer and industry rebates you offer. To seal the deal, we’ll throw some impressive numbers at them – like how the savings they will see in their lower budget bill will cover the monthly financing payments. If they’re still on the fence, send a follow-up promotion with a per-gallon discount if they replace their unit by a certain date.
- Lastly, Ms. Follower. We want her, and customers like her, to understand why they need to stay with heating oil. So they are in the “high conversion risk” category. Here’s where your personalized campaigns will focus on the safety and environmental benefits of heating oil, and even more so if you sell Bioheat® fuel. You want Ms. Follower to know that you have the better choice, and that the last thing she wants is to have to deal with another impersonal utility. And since the gas company is probably throwing money at her to convert, you can aggressively promote the same rebates and financing options you were offering Mr. Miser and crew.
Three customers with different needs. Three campaigns with different messages. Personalized marketing, and more specifically, targeted advertising, empowers your company to customize the messaging to fit the need. Because it is an automated process, you get to develop the message, identify the broader traits (penny pinchers, high conversion risk, multiple service calls) or combine multiple traits, and send the promotion to all the customers who meet those parameters.
Personalized marketing is not just for current customers. The amount of data available to you or your ad agency about potential customers is virtually beyond comprehension, and platforms exist to make finding those customers easier than ever.
Google Display Ads, Facebook and Twitter ads, boosted Facebook posts, and promoted tweets can be customized and curated to reach specific audiences, so that you can target your promotions to people whom you’ve never met! You can send one set of ads to reach Mr. Clunker’s best friend, who is constantly searching for “do it yourself” heating system repair instructions and buying aftermarket parts online, and set up comparable campaigns for the Mr. Misers and Ms. Followers in your service area. By working with a marketing partner who’s Google Ads Certified and well experienced in social media optimization, you’ll be able to hone your message so that it hits the right target every time. No more crossed signals or mixed messages — just perfectly personalized marketing communications that finally and faithfully translate your company’s individualized service to the digital arena.
PriMedia is currently celebrating 25 years as the energy marketer’s source for cutting-edge marketing and communications solutions. Find out more about personalized marketing at our presentations and booths at SNEEC (booth 18) and ESEC, and call 800-796-3342 or visit goprimedia.com to keep the conversation going.