The utility turns to Oracle Opower to deliver targeted email and direct mail communications to limited-income customers.
“Opower was really supportive throughout, and we worked with them to carefully analyze census data on top of our billing data. With their help, we weren’t just reaching out to customers already in arrears; we were also able to reach so many more vulnerable customers and help prevent them from falling behind with their payments.”
With the rising cost of energy, more people are struggling to pay their utility bills. Washington Gas recognized the hardships that many of its customers faced during and after the pandemic. While the utility charges customers the same price that it pays for natural gas, Washington Gas recognized it needed to take action to help ease customers’ struggles with frequent price fluctuations as well as pandemic-related financial difficulties.
Because Washington Gas was already an Oracle Opower customer, it decided to partner with Opower to create a pilot program to help reduce the financial burden on customers by helping them access energy assistance programs more easily.
We serve 1.2 million customers, so narrowing down and targeting those emails was overwhelming and a great undertaking. As a result of Opower’s insights, we saw a 30 percent increase in account enrollment for energy assistance programs.
Why Washington Gas chose Oracle
Washington Gas knew that Oracle Opower would bring predictive analytics to help identify customers who needed the most help. Opower Identification and Analytics began by analyzing customer billing data in a secure environment to help calculate the energy burden at the household level. Opower overlaid datasets from a range of sources to give Washington Gas a confidential picture of its most energy-vulnerable customers.
The utility was able to use this analysis to reach customers who were likely to have trouble paying their energy bills on time and who would most likely be approved for financial assistance programs such as the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the Washington Area Fuel Fund (WAFF). These customers were paying a disproportionate amount of their income toward energy expenses, and with Opower analytics, Washington Gas could reach many proactively before they fell into arrears.
When people fall behind with their bills, they can feel stressed about their inability to pay. Washington Gas delivered personalized Opower communications to assure customers that it was possible to get help.
To increase enrollment in the energy assistance programs, Washington Gas directed the emails to as many customers as possible for available programs in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. The utility also sent emails right before enrollment windows opened, and included information to make the application process simpler. In the six months that followed the campaign, enrollments reached an all-time high. On average, over 1,500 Washington Gas customers signed up for assistance each month.
Customers clicked on the information within the emails 3X to 5X more than the cross-industry average click-through rates. Not only did Washington Gas deliver content that was relevant to limited-income customers, but the utility also motivated customers to seek help.
About the customer
Washington Gas remains committed to serving its most energy-vulnerable customers. As more customers experience positive outreach, they’ll see their utility less as a corporation and more as a group of real people who care.