Apogee Newsletter October 2022

October 27, 2022 | Newsletter

 Surviving the Energy Journey

Susan Gilbert, CEO & Co-Founder, Apogee Interactive, Inc. 

 Last month, Joel keynoted the annual J.D. Power Utility Clients conference for energy and water utilities in Austin, TX. Jeff Conklin, an Executive Director at J.D. Power and our long-time friend and colleague, wanted Joel to start the meeting with some excitement to motivate, inspire, and broaden the perspectives of the roughly 150 industry executives and managers in attendance. Joel delivered on that in a captivating 45-minute talk sharing humorous, relevant stories from his own life to illustrate points and make them more memorable.

The overarching theme was that… 

We all need to sharpen our listening skills and dig deeper into the underlying reasons why people feel the way they do about issues and challenges.

Joel suggested that we eliminate the words “or” and “versus” when we encounter differences of opinion. To illustrate, he pointed out that beneficial electrification is trendy, but it needs to be expanded to beneficial gasification. For example, while EVs are popular, the future will include for many years to come both electric and natural gas vehicles.  So, it is not gas versus electric … it is gas and electric.  He pointed out that the blend of these will shift over the next few decades as the grid becomes less carbon intensive, but right now, we must have natural gas in the mix.

 Some of Joel’s stories illustrated how we often mistakenly “hear what we want to hear.” One personal example he shared was about the time during a visit to Cancun we attended a pitch for a timeshare vacation rental. We were impressed that the asking price for a one-week vacation was only $4,500 for 28 years use. Given we had paid over $1,000 to stay that week, and the maintenance fee was only $150 a year, it seemed interesting. The salesperson realized some hesitation, so she offered it at $3,500 if we wouldn’t tell anyone else (yeah … right).

Joel’s final question was, “How often do hurricanes hit a place like this?” She was ready for that one, saying, “We haven’t had a hurricane here in 37 years!” At the time, we took that to mean the odds were good, but we should have considered the statistically more likely answer: they were due!! We learned that lesson the next year when a
Cat 5 hurricane with 200 mph winds wiped out much of Cancun. Its name ironically drove home the point:  Hurricane Gilbert.

Maintenance fees went to $600 and of course who wanted to go back to that property until it was fully restored … so there was another $100 to exchange it. Joel’s lesson here is that we hear what we want to hear. We can all improve our listening and learning by looking at issues from more than one vantage point.

Another point Joel made is many things today polarize conversations, citing the Rand Corporation’s paper called Truth Decay that illustrates the challenges with how diverse points of view color what each person considers to be truth. This requires us to be adept at bridging gaps rather than merely sticking to our talking points. In what was one of the funniest segments of his talk Joel illustrated by reading from some of Armon Sweat, Jr.’s 1952 testimony about his position on whiskey before the Texas House of Representatives. What follows is Sweat’s exact answer (from the Political Archives of Texas):

“If when you say whiskey, you mean the devil’s brew, the poisonous scourge, the bloody monster that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, and takes bread from the mouths of little children.  If you mean that evil drink that topples Christian men and women from the pinnacles of righteous and gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, shame, despair, helplessness, and hopelessness, then, my friend, I am opposed to it with every fiber of my being.”

However, if when you say whiskey you mean that oil of conversation, that philosophic wine consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean the stimulating sip that puts a spring in the step of an elderly man on a frosty morning; if you mean that drink that enables man, to forget if for a moment life’s great tragedies, heartbreaks and sorrow; if you mean that nectar of the gods through the sale of which pours untold millions of dollars each year into our treasuries, that provides tender care for our crippled children, and infirmed, and builds the finest highways, hospitals, universities, and community colleges in this nation, then my friend, I am absolutely, unequivocally in favor of it.

This is my position, and as always, I refuse to compromise on matters of principle.”

Attendees chuckled at some of Joel’s favorite one-liners: 

  • From a courtroom during a rate case when a frustrated attorney shouted at a witness, “I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you!” 
  • From the late Jim Rogers, then President of Duke Power, who warned his audiences, “If you’re not at the table, you’re likely to be on the menu!”

When you have a road trip with children these days, they don’t ask the age old, “are we there yet?” Joel continued, “Now the big challenge is whether they are with you on the journey at all or are they in their own worlds.”

We are all on this journey together, and it is going to be challenging, but we must listen and learn from each other along the way. In closing, he suggested several resources for further reading along with watching the film Planet of the Humans. It’s free on Amazon Prime and is a chilling 90-minute documentary showing another perspective on our energy challenges.  

During 25th EMACS Conference Chartwell Presented ComEd with Top Communications Award

During the recently held 25th annual EMACS – The Customer Experience Conference in Orlando, Chartwell presented ComEd’s Wendy Hines, Senior Business Project Manager, with the 2022 Best Practices Gold Communications Award. ComEd received the prestigious award for its Personalized Reliability Reports (PRR) video, developed by Apogee, to educate customers about their outages. 

Providing electric service to more than 4 million customers in northern Illinois, ComEd recently spent $2.6 billion to upgrade its electric grid. However, even though reliability had improved more than 60% since 2012, surveys continued to indicate that most customers were unaware of the impact the upgrades had on their electric service reliability. As a result, ComEd partnered with Apogee Interactive to create Personalized Reliability Report (PRR) videos to help improve customers’ perception and overall customer satisfaction. Watch an example of ComEd’s PRR video or see a sample Reliability video now.

Wendy Hines who served as ComEd’s internal project champion presented the case study during the EMACS Conference which drew upwards of more than 300 attendees from 65 utilities to Orlando. During her talk, Wendy noted that after watching the video, customers indicated they had increased their understanding, and nearly 52% had a more favorable impression of ComEd. 

 Countering the Impending Communication Crisis

By Susan Gilbert, CEO

Electric and gas utilities across the U.S. are seeing energy prices surge. Some customers’ gas bills doubled or even tripled last winter, and they are expected to be high this year as well.   As a result, customer satisfaction is taking a hit. J.D. Power scores fell from 754 in the second quarter of 2021 to 728 a year later, a drop of 26 points. Reversing this trend can have a big impact on utilities’ bottom lines: A recent study of public utilities found for every unit increase in customer satisfaction, utilities’ operational costs decreased by $29 million.  

Reversing the trend in the face of increasing prices will take some work. For one, letting customers know what is going on and giving them options to help them goes a long way.  It’s better for customers to hear about this from their utility before the bills hit. They are hearing it now in the media. Here’s one example from NPR: https://lnkd.in/gYDFFgyn.  

Increasingly, utilities are taking a more proactive, high-impact, and cost-effective approach to digitally engage with customers. How? They are sending them personalized videos letting them know what is happening so they can prepare for higher bills. In these messages, they:

  • Show customers they Care.
  • Give them a sense of Control by providing an online energy audit that gives them achievable savings recommendations.
  • Provide Choices by letting them select a new rate or payment plan like Average Monthly Bill.
  • Make it Convenient with “Click here to sign-up.”

A unique advantage of sending personalized videos is customers open them and watch the videos at a rate many times higher than emails. It’s not unusual to see a 30% Click-Thru Rate, which is 15 times the industry standard of 2%. Furthermore, these customers are now digitally engaged with their utility and can have two-way ongoing dialogues through surveys included in the videos. Additionally, you know who watched the video. You can’t do that with paper mailers or advertising.  

 Another lesson from JD Power is that utilities with high percentages of digitally engaged customers have significantly higher customer satisfaction. And they are less expensive to serve!

Apogee is focused on creating communication options to help in this high bill crisis. In cooperation with Utility Dive, we prepared this Playbook covering the Top Six Techniques we found improve digital engagement and communication with customers while totally Wowing them when they see their very own billing information analyzed in a video. 


Webinar November 17, 2022
2 PM Eastern

 J.D. Power Presents: How Customer Satisfaction Drives Return on Equity for Regulated Utilities 

Mark your calendars.

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