Report shows pandemic accelerated utility customer digital engagement

With more customers engaged with digital communications, now is the time for utilities to segment their customers and offer them targeted email campaigns specific to their needs.

Energy utility customers are engaging with digital communications from their energy providers more than ever before, according to Questline’s 2021 Energy Utility Benchmarks Report, released this month. The report shows that digital adoption was accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic.

In its seventh year, the Energy Utility Benchmarks Report evaluates digital marketing data for Questline’s 450 energy utility clients, looking at more than 356 million email messages to analyze performance and trends across the utility industry.

Following are some of the key findings of the 2021 report:

Accelerated adoption of paperless billing: Data showed a 53% higher click to open rate (CTOR) on eBill campaigns in 2020 compared to 2019. This is the largest jump in Benchmarks Report history, showcasing the willingness of energy consumers to switch to digital solutions for reasons of safety and convenience.

Customers are looking for energy savings: During the initial months of the pandemic customers engaged with promotional emails with an 18% higher open rate and 27% higher click-through rate than the previous year. Messages about energy efficiency proved the most successful, highlighting growing consumer interest in learning ways to save energy and money.

Overall rise in digital engagement: Overall email open rates hit an all-time high at 28%, a 14% increase from the previous year. Digital adoption accelerated among all audiences as they looked to their energy service providers for help. During the initial months of the pandemic email open rates were 44% higher than the overall benchmark.

Success with personalization: Segmented eNewsletters saw a 22% higher open rate and 44% higher click-through compared to unsegmented eNewsletters. Energy customers are looking for communications that match their specific needs and utilities are seeing success with more sophisticated and personalized marketing. For example, using analytics, a utility might be able to segment populations who are more interested in Electric Vehicles (EVs) and create promotions for them specifically.

Virtual events effective for utility business customers: Webinar production for Questline’s energy utility clients increased by 86% in 2020. Popular events were related to safety and money-saving programs, resonating most with facility managers and key accounts.

Articles remain top content format, with video on the rise: Of top content consumed by residential and business customers, articles made up 62% and 74%, respectively. Video consumption continues to rise in popularity, particularly with residential audiences.

“Energy utility customers looked to their service providers for aid and education during the 2020 pandemic,” explains Dave Reim, CEO and President of Questline. “They opened more emails and engaged with more content than ever before. The true value of a digital customer relationship was realized as utilities who did not have established lines of digital communication struggled to reach customers with important messages during the outbreak. Maintaining and growing these digital relationships will be a priority for energy utilities in 2021.”

The 2021 Energy Utility Benchmarks Report (download here) dives deeper into these key points and provides marketing case studies from natural gas and electric utilities. Questline’s evaluation also looks at which content topics resonated most with residential and business customers, the best times and days to send different types of communication and trends in welcome messages and eNewsletter communications.

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Jennifer Runyon manages content on Renewable Energy World and POWERGRID International and also serves as the conference advisory committee chair for DISTRIBUTECH International. You can reach her at

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