What will it take to get your member to truly engage with your electric cooperative?

If you guessed excellent delivery of core services—reliable service, trustworthiness and quick resolution of problems—you are correct. Almost.

New research from Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives found that “exemplary performance” in these areas, while important, only gives co-ops an “in” to continue engagement efforts with members.

“A solid foundation in core services builds trust and allows co-ops to enter a dialogue that builds engagement with their members,” according to the 2019 National Survey on the Cooperative Difference.

In conducting nearly 20,000 interviews with members of 70 co-ops in 21 states, researchers found that satisfaction doesn’t automatically result in engagement.

“We look at core services as being necessary but not sufficient for member engagement. You have to satisfy the customer before you can engage them as a member,” said Tom Laing, vice president of research and member insights at TSE Services, which conducted the survey.

Member engagement relies on consistent communication, the survey found. Here, members gave co-ops weak scores in “areas that should be recognized as key advantages of the cooperative business model. Members continue to lack understanding that the cooperative’s goal is to provide energy at the lowest possible cost or its efforts to control rising costs,” the survey said. “They are also not convinced that the cooperative is committed to renewable energy, or that it is looking out for members’ best interests.”

The survey recommends that co-ops step up communication efforts and target marketing messages to specific attributes they want to promote, such as providing electricity at the lowest possible cost and helping members save money on energy bills.

As in previous years, researchers also studied emerging industry trends:

  • Beneficial Electrification: “Members appreciated the environmental impacts, but they were very keen [to learn about] savings available to them,” said Laing. And when it comes to explaining the concept, “don’t get too technical with your language. Instead, go with ‘smart electrification’ because it sounds empowering,” he said.

  • Smart Home Technologies: About a third of members have a smart device, such as a doorbell camera, thermostat or smart speaker. “But when we asked if they’d be interested in turning their homes into smart homes, we got a pretty lukewarm response,” said Laing. “It seems that members are more interested in the device than they are in the ecosystem, at least today.”

  • Community Engagement: Top activities “are those things that have the greatest general impact on the health of the community,” said Laing, including helping prepare for and respond to natural disasters; offering energy efficiency programs; supporting fire and rescue services; and advocating for national issues.

Learn more about the 2019 National Survey on the Cooperative Difference and check out webinars on trends. To enroll in the 2020 National Survey, contact Jason McGrade, Jason.McGrade@nreca.coop, 703-907-6063.

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