National Grid sparks customer engagement with sustainability initiatives | Maru Group
By Stacey Kinley, SVP, Strategy and Development, Maru/Matchbox | December 6, 2021
How do you engage customers in a low-engagement, highly regulated industry? How do you get them to adopt sustainability practices that are better for both them and the planet?
This is the situation that National Grid is facing — along with many other utilities around the world. With significant operations in the U.K. and Northeastern U.S., they deliver gas and electricity to 20 million people. Their objective is to transfer energy without interruption to customers and maintain the overhead electrical lines and gas pipelines that do this. With the goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050, National Grid now, more than ever, is looking to engage its customers to participate in a variety of energy-efficient and sustainability programs.
However, customers are often skeptical of their utility’s motives relating to these types of programs — questioning why their utility would be trying to help them decrease their usage (and ultimately the cost of their utility bills). In essence, there is often a lack of trust that these big companies have their customers’ best interests at heart.
Nikola Glavan, Lead Analyst at National Grid, discussed these challenges and how they are addressing them when I spoke with him at the We Better Behave! event.
Research uncovers the cause of resistance
National Grid conducted research to understand customer perceptions so they could address the core reasons for potential hesitancy and distrust. They engaged their online community of customers to gain insights into their level of knowledge and awareness of National Grid’s initiatives and the regulatory environment it which it operates. The results clearly showed that the customers who understand this regulatory relationship are more likely to engage with them and participate in their programs.
Important factors for customers to understand
- The regulatory environment defines the supply and delivery categories on customers’ bills.
- Understanding what it means to have a supplier choice and what National Grid’s role is in that equation.
- Rates are set through a transparent process. It is not something that National Grid independently or arbitrarily sets. The process is clearly defined and regulated.
The research found that less than one third of their customers understand these important regulatory factors. “That’s something that we as an industry are facing and we see as an important opportunity — to build that relationship with our customers — and get greater engagement,” said Glavan.
Building trust with customers
When customers have this awareness, National Grid sees significant changes in how they perceive the company and their likelihood to participate in the company’s various programs. Customers who have this awareness are:
o 40% less likely to distrust them.
o 11% more likely to trust them.
o 38% more likely to recall National Grid’s energy efficiency (EE) communications.
o 24% more likely to perceive those communications more positively.
o 22% more likely to participate in their EE programs.
Glavan said these findings are helping them refine their messaging, communications, and programs. As customers realize that National Grid does not have a monetary motivation to encourage increased energy consumption, their trust builds, and it allows a sustainability partnership to develop.
Show me the energy savings
National Grid has shown great enterprise in promoting sustainable practices and partnering with related industries. Besides their EE programs, their initiatives include solar power and work with electric vehicles (EVs).
They offer home energy reports and assessments; practical tips, such as installing low-flow showerheads; links to rebates and incentives for weatherization and appliance recycling; and special financing programs for income-eligible customers so that sustainability is attainable for all. Home energy reports help consumers understand their usage and how it compares to similar homes in their neighborhood. Glavan said they want customers to be conscious about how they use energy and consider how they could save money by lowering their energy use.
They are looking ahead as well, by encouraging the use of renewable energy. The company has connected over 200 MW of rooftop solar energy for 27,000 customers through their strategic partnership with Sunrun, a provider of solar panels and home batteries. Solar panels can be purchased or rented. The energy can also be stored through Brightbox, their lithium-ion home battery, which gives customers independence from energy interruptions.
Their work with EVs is more recent. Internal combustion engine vehicles are significant drivers of GHG emissions and National Grid is working with businesses and communities to help install charging ports and enable fleet electrification. As conversion to EVs grows, the company is working with customers to ensure the reliability of their energy transportation grid is not affected. To do this, they offer incentives to EV customers to avoid charging on hot summer days when electricity demand is very high.
Renewable energy for all
The company includes environmental justice communities in much of the work they do with EVs and solar energy and finds ways to meet the needs and concerns of these groups as well. This strong commitment to sustainability, their inclusive practices, strategic partnerships, and looking to the future shows that creative solutions can be found, and customer trust can be built in a low-engagement, highly regulated industry.
Watch Nikola Glavan discuss how research insights helped National Grid increase customer engagement and adoption of sustainability practices all while saving money. Access it on demand at https://webetterbehave.live/agenda/.