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Thursday, January 28, 2021

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Looking Forward to 2021

by Richard Rutigliano, President, PriMedia, Inc.


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Opportunities abound for companies that are sensitive to customer needs and concerns

I am gladly waving goodbye to 2020 in a few weeks, and I think it’s fair to say that most of you feel the same way. I admit to looking forward to seeing this year in the rear-view mirror, along with its non-existent 2021 RFS volumes, election controversies and what we all hope was the worst of the
pandemic.

There are a lot of questions as to what 2021 will look like, but we can make our forecasts with a touch of optimism and enthusiasm. We are hopeful that fuel providers can build on the relationships they were able to maintain last year, and that stable fuel prices will help both homeowners and providers recover.
 
While everyone suffered from COVID-19 shutdowns, illnesses and too many personal losses, home energy companies were able to continue to deliver fuels and perform emergency services. Many other industries, however, were forced into devastating closures. With exciting news about vaccines on the horizon (pending emergency use authorization as I write), we expect that customers will soon be more comfortable with sales personnel and technicians entering their homes when necessary.

Those two words, “when necessary,” are the crux of the matter. Clients who installed a remote services option on their site during the pandemic have used it thousands of times to assess issues, assist customers, and reduce on-site time for situations requiring a technician visit. These pages account for more than nine percent of the increased traffic to their websites since April 2020 and show no sign of slowing down.

Virtual services had been “something to look forward to” for a long time, became a necessity in 2020 and will be a point of differentiation in 2021. Homeowners have become accustomed to virtual medical appointments, remote meetings and digital “family dinners.” Going forward they will favor companies that utilize all available technology to provide safer and more convenient services.

No matter what happens with the COVID-19 vaccines, it appears that remote schooling and working-from-home will continue through a good part of next year – and possibly for much longer than that. With more people at home during the day, fuel usage will increase.

Communicate with customers via regular mail, email and text messages to assess how their lives have changed. Make direct phone calls – the personal touch goes a long way in any situation, and all the more so now when so many people are being kept apart. Recommend that will-call customers check their fuel levels more frequently or switch to auto-delivery, and let all customers know that you have adjusted delivery schedules to help ensure they don’t run out of fuel. This is a good time to remind them of budget programs to help manage their monthly finances, and to connect those in need with HEAP and other assistance programs.


Digital Trends

Another trend that we expect to continue is the ever-increasing use of the internet for sales and marketing. In the last three months we’ve seen an average 22 percent increase in traffic to our clients’ websites, and conversions from online advertising jump 46 percent over the same period. If you don’t have a search engine marketing campaign in place, consider adding one for 2021 to put your company directly in front of potential customers looking for heating and home comfort services. Search engine marketing, or pay-per-click advertising, is one of the most cost-effective ways to directly target in-market consumers in your service area.

If you already have a search engine marketing campaign in place, it may be time to expand your reach into mobile, apps and social media marketing. One customer who did so saw traffic to its website more than double in less than a month. These campaigns can target by location, age, interests, recent search queries and site visits and more, and remarket to users who visit your site but do not complete a conversion.  

Your marketing should be supported by a well-designed landing page that not only promotes your services and provides easy contact options but also outlines the safety precautions you have incorporated as standard operating procedures. Standard is key for 2021 marketing and beyond. We are all, unfortunately, much more aware of how easily communicable diseases can be spread, and many customers will expect companies to make long-term changes to their in-home service protocols. That means that mask wearing, hand sanitizing and regular cleaning of equipment may continue for some time. Have you ordered branded face masks for your staff or custom-labeled sanitizers to leave with customers yet?

Lastly, as you look to 2021, take a look at your website — from your cell phone. Many of our customers are getting nearly half of their visitors from mobile devices, and those numbers keep growing. Even “mobile friendly” sites that had been updated a few years ago may need to be freshened and reorganized. Experience your website as your customers do, and then have it modified to optimize the user experience based on your observations and your web developers’ recommendations: adjust navigation, images and layout and add or update customer convenience features that increase your bottom line such as pay online, account management, fuel and service requests and contact mechanisms.

My staff and I wish you the happiest and safest of holidays, and look forward to ushering in the New Year!

Richard Rutigliano is President of integrated marketing and communications firm PriMedia, Inc. He can be reached at 516-222-2041 or rrutigliano@goprimedia.com.


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