As efficiency programs mature, utilities and regulators will be challenged to keep producing demand-side resources. A systems-oriented approach can yield cost-effective results.
Green Power Supercharge
Over the past decade, utility green power programs (also known as green pricing programs) have helped utilities across the nation meet growing customer demand for electricity generated using renewable resources, as well as support both large- and small-scale local renewable energy projects. Additionally they’ve helped utilities improve relations with utility commissions, local environmental groups, and other key stakeholders. Plus utilities have gained direct experience in markets for trading renewable energy certiﬁcates (REC), helping them better utilize this market to meet state or regional renewable portfolio standards.
The results of such programs have been impressive. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) green power program sales reached 5.2 million kilowatt-hours in 2009, the last year for which such data is available.(1)
During call center initiatives, a pattern often emerges—a small minority of CSRs end up enrolling a large majority of total customer enrollments. It’s the 80/20 rule in action. These “high achievers” were asked what the secret was to their success—and the four pieces of advice they offered most frequently were:
■ Bring up the program as much as possible: You never know who is going to be interested in green power. A good rule of thumb is that every new connect and transfer of service should automatically get a program explanation.
■ Be upfront with the fact that this is a voluntary program: “Our utility offers a completely voluntary environmental program called…”
■ Get comfortable with describing the program: Explaining the program will feel awkward at ﬁrst. However, with time, if will easily roll off the tongue.
■ Lower expectations and don’t worry about rejection: A 10 percent enrollment rate is good—therefore you can expect at least 9 in 10 customers to say no. And once a customer says “no,” just quickly move on to the next part of the call— don’t worry about wasting another breath.– AC
This represents a compound annual growth rate of 20 percent from 2005 to 2009, an impressive growth rate in almost any industry.
Of course, as is true in any maturing market, we should expect that maintaining this rate of growth will prove difﬁcult; this is especially true given today’s difﬁcult economic environment. Fortunately, there are several highly effective, low-cost opportunities to leverage existing utility communication channels for continued program growth.
One of the most effective channels for driving such low-cost growth can be found in what is, perhaps, an unexpected place—the call center. Call center representatives (CSR) serve a special role in utilities—they are on the front lines, representing the utility in personal interactions with customers hundreds of times a week. And by deﬁnition, inbound CSR interactions always occur while the customer is proactively making a decision about their energy use.
The traditional focus at most utility call centers is on addressing customers’ immediate questions and maintaining reasonable call handling times, not on enrolling customers in voluntary programs. However, with good planning and concise training, CSRs can be one of a utility’s most successful options for enrolling customers—with no signiﬁcant impact on call-handling time.
Training and Incentives