New technology is making it easier than ever to communicate with your members in a host of ways. Best practices for utilizing that technology was the focus of our recent roundtable, “Innovation in the New Era of Member Engagement,” a look at how co-operative utilities can use best practices to improve member communication.

Our panel of experts included Mary Ann Cristiano, Touchstone Energy Director of Marketing, Advertising and Digital; Steph Okuniewski, Pennsylvania Rural Electric Association Member Engagement Specialist; and Jen Poth, owner of BP Electric in Lexington, Ohio. Myles Meehan, HomeServe’s Senior Vice President of Public Relations, was the moderator.

Opportunities to reach out to members range from old stalwarts like bill inserts and websites to videos and loyalty cards to social media and video calls.

Video calls have become more prominent than ever before during the pandemic, which has made gathering groups – such as member meetings – perilous for those whose health is put at risk.

“Think outside the box,” said Okuniewski, Pennsylvania Rural Electric Association Member Engagement Specialist. “[Members] are using Go-To-Meeting, WebEx, live YouTube streaming. We would have never done that before, because we like the personalized feel of face-to-face, but this tech offers a new way of communicating that is working for us.”

Cristiano, Touchstone Energy Director of Marketing, Advertising and Digital, suggested that co-ops go beyond board meetings with video calls – they can be utilized in ways that encourage interaction between members and employees. She suggested considering a regular Do-It-Yourself segment in which co-ops invite a home expert to show members how to do a simple DIY repair and hold a Q&A session.

Co-ops should embrace video in a variety of ways – a short animated video can effectively relay a message or act as an explainer for services or frequently asked questions. Video can introduce board members to the broader membership or frequently seen front office faces. Taking it even further, augmented reality can demonstrate how assets, such as wind turbines, work.

“Our video downloads have more than doubled this year,” Cristiano said. “Additional videos are a big request.”

Anything a co-operative wants to communicate to members should be featured prominently on the website.

“Your website is your front door,” said Cristiano.

Poth noted that your members are paying attention to your websites – in particular, on her company website, customers liked that photos of technicians who were dispatched to customers’ homes were available, as were the company’s COVID-19 protocols.

“We can put information on our websites about our employees,” she said. “People want to see our employees wearing [Personal Protective Equipment], that is very important to Millennials, and we are getting a lot of questions about what we’re doing regarding COVID-19. Our techs are having more and longer dialogues – I think folks are lonely.”

Cristiano also recommended that co-ops consider including options to pay bills or look at capital credits on their websites. Live chat capability is also something that co-ops should consider, since it’s attractive to many younger members. Millennials prefer emails or text messages over receiving mail through the U.S. Post Office.

“Anything to get [the message] out faster, more directly, works for them,” Okuniewski said.

However, that is not to say that mail is dead – Okuniewski detailed a mail campaign in which a hard copy flier was sent out to a co-op’s members, encouraging those with a past-due balance to receive a $50 credit by contacting the co-op to discuss payment options. It was wildly successful.

Keeping the phone lines open, especially during the pandemic, is also important, Cristiano noted. Keeping open as many options for communication – as many touch points as possible – is best practice, and when members are social distancing during the pandemic, they may long for that human interaction.

“Just having other people to talk to is a huge deal,” Okuniewski said. “For some folks, that makes their whole day, just having a one-on-one conversation on the phone. We’re using technology to contact all age groups in a variety of ways.”

Watch the entire roundtable and question-and-answer session below.

For more information on HomeServe and how we can help your member engagement, contact us.