Customer Service

Are you leveraging the community connection?

My daughter’s summer theater group enjoys making its rounds in the area’s shopping centers to solicit ads for the playbill. Group members know they’ll get great support from the locally-owned shops but consider it a waste of time to visit the chain grocery stores, gyms, and other businesses run by large corporations with remote shareholders. “I think the managers want to be helpful, but they can’t make decisions,” she said.

It’s the same with an annual run in my community to raise funds for children’s cancer research. Started by a family who lost a young son to cancer, Ben’s Run has grown from a few hundred participants to more than 1,000 participants in eight years. The run gets tremendous support from local businesses. It is rare for any of the banks, utilities, coffee shops, and other corporate-run entities that profit from serving the community to show up on the sponsor list — if they do, it’s because someone involved with the run works at or knows someone who works at headquarters.

Community support comes when there is a real community connection. And you, as the community-owned, not-for-profit electric utility can be that genuine connection for the large commercial and industrial enterprises that are considering setting up shop in your community.

In fact, community can be a big driver for economic development. It ranks right up there with rates, reliability, sustainability, and all the other benefits that you offer as a public power utility.

Large corporations hanker after community. The Forbes Human Resources Council notes that “Getting involved in the community is a great way for any organization to build relationships and boost visibility and brand awareness … Companies that encourage involvement in the community stand out among their peers and see multiple benefits as a result, such as a happier workforce or a more loyal customer base.”

The council reports that roughly 82 percent of U.S. consumers consider corporate social responsibility when deciding what services and products to buy and from where. And 86 percent of Generation Y workers value their companies’ corporate social responsibility programs and would quit their jobs if those programs started to slip.

Therefore, if large corporations considering coming to your area could understand that your utility can connect them not only to electricity, but also to the community, it’s a huge plus.

It can be a win-win situation. You, too, leverage the support of large businesses in giving back to the community. Whether it’s through STEM scholarships for local schools and colleges, beautification of a park, fundraisers for community causes, assistance for local families in need, or saving the turtles — you can do more with financial support from your business customers.

As a locally owned enterprise, you have local authenticity that a large corporation can’t build on its own. So consider putting the community connection at the top of your economic development brochure. Weave it into your conversations, train your key accounts staff to play it up, and keep it top of mind in all your interactions.

You can also draw on the traditions of the national public power community to emphasize your commitment to your local community. When our President and CEO Sue Kelly recently visited Austin and Owatonna, Minnesota, the utility staff wanted her to talk to their commercial and industrial customers about public power’s national presence. Those customers were impressed when Sue told them that 2,000 towns and cities in the U.S. have public power and that we distinguish ourselves by giving back to the community.

How have your business customers benefited from your community ownership and connection? Tell us your story — email [email protected] — and we’ll work with you to publish it in Public Power Daily or our blog.