The people most involved in telling the stories of electric cooperatives and promoting the value of co-op membership are in Salt Lake City this week discussing communications and effective messaging.

NRECA is hosting CONNECT, the annual professional development conference for co-op communications, marketing and member services staff, partnering again with Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives.

More than 600 people will be in Utah for several days of conference sessions and workshops designed to help them tell their co-ops' stories more effectively while meeting needs presented in a rapidly changing energy marketplace.

"Electric co-ops serve members that are more diverse and have higher expectations of their co-op than ever," said Scott Peterson, NRECA's senior vice president of communications. "They have a keen interest in technology both for their energy use and how they communicate with their co-op—and that drives our need to evolve in both areas."

NRECA will present the findings of focus groups and a national survey with end-of-the-line members to strengthen the cooperative lexicon. The resulting "words you can use" guide provides messaging suggestions when communicating to co-op members on the cooperative advantage and other topics.

"While the presentations in the main sessions and breakouts touch upon technology, the content will hone in on the best ways to reach our members in various demographics and on a variety of issues," said Peterson. "Co-op communicators and member services directors from around the country are sharing their successes and the feedback they've heard directly from the members they serve."

Touchstone Energy is unveiling new and expanded programs for its member cooperatives to roll out in their service territories in the months ahead. Members of the Touchstone Energy staff will answer questions about new discounts designed to add value to the Co-op Connections discount program, why websites are a key member touchpoint and how to leverage data to exceed member expectations.

"Because Touchstone Energy co-ops have more local, regional and national resources to leverage, they can provide state-of-the-art service with a hometown touch," said Lynn Moore, Touchstone Energy's executive director. "The most important thing to members these days is the conveniences that make life simpler so they can invest in their quality of life."

To that end, a general session will focus on the role co-ops play in helping revitalize commercial and retail districts of co-op-served communities.

Touchstone Energy co-op employees are discussing ways to build on and showcase American Customer Satisfaction Index rankings—consistently the highest among utility groups for more than a decade.

"Co-ops have built a reputation based on strong relationships and consistent, affordable service," said Moore. "When we connect with members on this message, they realize they need to look no further than their backyard for the value and lifestyle that they seek."

The conference features presentations on solar energy, employee communications, digital content, energy efficiency, electric vehicles and smart technology. Several sessions are addressing cybersecurity risks and economic challenges facing rural communities.

Conference attendees will discuss how best to use data provided by automated metering infrastructure connections for information they can use to help members control their energy costs.

"With more than 100 speakers covering six pre-conference workshops, four general sessions, 43 breakout sessions, there is something for everyone to learn at the conference," said Jean Capon, NRECA CONNECT program manager. "It's a great gathering of co-op professionals who want to hone their skills, gain knowledge about the electric cooperative industry, and get inspired about the cooperative way of doing business."