Customer Service

Build your own newsroom, build customer trust

Hahn Public presented at the American Public Power Association's 2016 Customer Connections Conference.

Today's consumers want their products and services on-demand and on-the-go, whether they're watching TV, applying for loans, monitoring home security, or paying utility bills. Attention spans are short. Audiences want the full story in 140 characters or less, and news media have responded with eight-second sound bites and quick-turnaround online news stories written by robots designed to sound like humans. Journalists are under immense pressure to create stories that get views on print, video, blog, and social media platforms.

It's getting harder for brands to tell their stories through traditional news media and outreach. But there is opportunity — necessity, even — for brands, including utilities, to start communicating and building bonds with customers directly.

In a recent study on utility rate cases, Hahn Public found that customers' perceptions of the messenger matter more than the actual message being delivered. The level of trust your customers have for your company and your brand can have a real impact on the bottomline.

Utilities don't just need to deliver reliable power at affordable rates. They need to build brand trust. They must reinforce their credibility and expertise and give customers the information they need. Utilities need to explain how rates and bills are calculated and give tips on how to save energy and money. They must engage with customers directly and consistently through all media channels.

Many organizations are doing this effectively through brand journalism and digital newsrooms. They are sharing their own stories through a journalistic lens and delivering relevant, honest, and credible content.

Custom content is 92 percent more effective than traditional TV advertising at increasing awareness and 168 percent more powerful at driving preference.

Think of your utility's digital newsroom as an online magazine with customized content — employee and customer spotlights, investments in the local community (volunteerism, sponsorships, etc.), and relevant industry news. Utilities large and small can take advantage of this approach, and some such as Duke Energy and Omaha Public Power District are already doing it well.

The four-step success model outlined below demonstrates how to build and operate a digital newsroom:


First, take stock of your resources and identify your goals for the newsroom. Select the metrics you will track to measure success, and identify the newsroom audience, voice, infrastructure/logistics, staffing, and editorial plan. To allow for information gathering and approvals, we recommend planning content topics and format (video, article, graphic) several months ahead of when content will be posted.


Once you've planned a calendar of topics, create the stories and update the newsroom regularly with new content. Keep in mind your audience. Take advantage of current news, events, announcements, and interesting stories in addition to maintaining your planned topics.


Once you have some content in place, the next step is to direct customers to it. The content created for your newsroom can and should be repurposed and promoted through multiple channels to get it in front of your audiences and customers, using the PESO model (paid, earned, social, owned) as a guide.


Using the performance metrics established in the planning phase, keep track of the results regularly to assess what works and what doesn't. Then, start the cycle over again by using the data to inform future plans. If videos get the most attention, consider adding a few more videos to your plan. If you find that the majority of your website visitors are accessing your site via smartphone, make sure your content is mobile-friendly.

Utilities have an opportunity to shift customer perceptions from "energy provider" to "excellent customer service provider." A well-designed digital newsroom can help signal your utility's move in that direction."