By Kelly Kautz, Utility Marketing Program Coordinator, Lakeland Electric
As a public power utility, Lakeland Electric measures our success by how much money stays within our city. Lakeland contributes to our community by offering low rates and in contributions to the city budget, unlike a private power utility whose money goes to stockholders across the country and around the world. A “muni” utility is owned by the city it serves. It exists to provide a public service to the citizens, businesses, and industries of the community. Service, not profit, is our ultimate mission.
To help our customers understand what makes us different, each year we hold a Customer Academy - an interactive informational program that gives our customers some insight into how our community-owned electric utility operates.
We offer the program every spring, usually from March to May, to a maximum of 30 customers. Customers who sign up can participate in six (6) two-hour sessions every other Tuesday from 6-8 p.m. in various locations around our facilities.
The academy is a valuable component in building a connection with our community, however we have not always reached the maximum number of participants. Many of our past participants included our seasonal winter residents who journey back home to the north starting in the late spring.
This year, when we learned that we would have to push the start of the academy to April, we knew that would leave us with a large void of usual suspects to recruit for participation. We took the opportunity to rethink the academy’s structure and how we might broaden our reach to new demographics of customers.
First, we began a soft digital advertising campaign through our website and social media sites in January, a full three months before the start of the first session. Consistent and weekly posts advertising Customer Academy registration led to our first few registrants. However, registration didn’t really take off until we promoted the academy through two major local events and our local media.
The Life Expo is an event for seniors and retirees held in February attended by nearly a thousand people from all over our county, many of whom are our customers. In March, we hosted an event promoting our new rebate and energy conservation program, which included an in-person forum attended by over 65 people and hundreds more watching via livestream. We partnered with our local newspaper to livestream the forum through social media, and they in turn ran several articles bout the benefits of changing habits to reduce energy consumption. Both of these events allowed us to connect with customers through one-on-one outreach and let them know of the opportunity to participate in the academy.
To promote the customer academy through our local media, we sent out a press release and entered the sessions into the event calendars on all the various local media and community websites. We made sure to emphasize the most popular aspect of the academy – tours of our power plant and lineman facilities. Our daily newspapers wrote articles about the Customer Academy which appeared both online and in print. Most exciting for us, the story was picked up by our local radio station and mentioned on one of our area’s most popular morning shows.
We also reached out through email lists to target some of our key customer demographics, particularly our commercial customers and local neighborhood associations. Through this outreach, we placed a brief article in our chamber of commerce’s newsletter.
As a result of these efforts, this year we saw our registration numbers jump to full capacity, and we even had to create a waiting list.
In addition to revamping our promotional efforts, we took the opportunity to make some changes to the academy itself to make the courses more appealing and beneficial to our customers. We streamlined the whole academy from six sessions to four. We also updated the presentations to allow people more interaction with our latest technologies. Our class participants were encouraged to bring personal laptops and smartphones to receive hands-on training on our newly launched website tools that allow customers to monitor their energy consumption through smart meter technology.
Every year, we follow up with a survey questionnaire to academy participants to find out what they learned and what they would like to see changed about the academy. This year, we gathered some of the most positive responses we’ve ever had.
Many of our customers graduate from the academy as advocates for Lakeland Electric with a better understanding of what it means to be a municipal utility. They promote our story to friends and family and become ambassadors on our behalf. We’re proud to be connected to our community, and hopeful that we can continue to see the academy be successful in 2018 and beyond.