Let’s be honest. There was a time when telecommunications and electric utilities saw little need to communicate with their customers. “What are they going to do, go somewhere else?”
Thankfully, that mentality has melted away for the most part, and today’s industry leaders understand the important role communications plays in the distributor/customer relationship. You have things to say, programs to promote, information to pass along — and your customers are more inquisitive than ever.
While there are many ways to reach your customers, there’s no better cornerstone to your communications program than a newsletter. A consistent publication gives you a reliable avenue of passing along information, and with today’s digital options, your printed newsletter can take on electronic forms (email and social media channels) that will foster an even higher level of engagement.
Following are some tips that will help you publish an effective customer newsletter:
Develop an editorial plan
Don’t make things up as you go along, scratching your head each month to come up with article ideas. Create a 12-month calendar and identify events you know you’ll want to cover (severe weather preparedness, Cooperative Month, customer appreciation events, holiday tie-ins, etc.). Next, add the programs you want to promote (prepay, security services, heat pump program, fiber television, etc.) and any upcoming events you are aware of (construction of a new substation or fiber buildout, retirements, new office openings, etc.). All these are subject to change, of course, and you can always move items around. But completing this calendar gives you a great starting point.
Don’t shy away from repetition
I like to say there’s no such thing as “having communicated.” You may eat, sleep and breathe your world, but your customers do not. When you get tired of talking about this program or that event, just remind yourself that many readers didn’t see it at all the last time you wrote about it — and of those who did, many don’t remember reading it. Communicating is not a “one and done” game. “Didn’t we just talk about this in our newsletter a few months ago?” Maybe you did, but you need to keep talking about it.
Involve the entire company
Any employee who has contact with customers can bring value to your communications program. Some mistakenly look at their newsletter as a function of the marketing department only. While it may be marketing’s responsibility to create and distribute the newsletter, there is much to be learned from operations, accounting, customer service and any department that has insight into issues that need to be addressed with your customers. In fact, some of the best story ideas come from the field. You’ll never get those stories, however, if you don’t create a culture that encourages sharing, along with a mechanism to pass those stories along to those who put the newsletter together.
Consider all of your audiences
There is quite a difference between the concerns of your residential customers and those of your small business or commercial accounts. They all have different needs, so be sure to talk to all of them through your newsletter. You may even want to send special business and industry-focused material from time to time.
Don’t be stiff in your writing. You can be professional and approachable at the same time. You and your staff understand all the jargon, but if you use too much of it in your newsletter, you will lose your readers. Sure, you have to communicate in the language of the industry, but just be sure to explain yourself when the talk gets too technical.
A monthly schedule is ideal for your publication since your bills are sent on a monthly basis. If you couple your printed publication with an email version and social media posts (and we highly suggest that you do), these can be scheduled throughout the month so that your customers have multiple points of entry to your message.
It’s about people, not programs
Let’s say that after launching a new program a few months ago, you now want to increase participation. It’s great to talk about the benefits of this program. But imagine how much stronger it would be to feature a story about a customer who has saved money because of the program. People enjoy reading about other people. A good people-focused story will always have a greater impact. Your readers will be more likely to remember and share these stories as well.
It’s about them, not you
Start every newsletter topic by asking yourself “who cares?” If the only answer is “well, I may be the only one,” then you need to rethink your approach. Your customers should be the focus of every article you publish. How does this impact them? What difference does it make in their lives? Why should they care? The answer is more obvious in some instances than others, but this practice will help you find the human element that will make your readers more likely to engage with your material.
We’ve worked with many people in electric and telecommunications in our 22 years of service to the industries, and I know very well those groans and sighs that can be heard through the halls each month when it’s time to work on the customer newsletter. But if you’ll step back, take a big-picture view and put these tips to work, you can develop a newsletter program that meets your communications goals and builds a stronger relationship between you and your customers.
If you’d like more tips and inspiration for communicating with your customers, sign up for our newsletter. We’d love to work with you.