The Utility Credibility Gap

Many electric utilities are engaging their customers around electric vehicles, pursuing higher EV adoption, increased energy sales and policy goals. They want to become trusted advisors to their customers in the realm of electric cars.

Traditionally, utilities have never been involved in transportation – and customers don’t think of utilities as a natural place to find information and guidance about cars. As a result, an average customer who is new to EVs will likely consult traditional trusted sources of automotive information such as Edmunds or KBB, rather than a utility website.

Of course, utilities are trusted for anything related to electricity – e.g. charging infrastructure, the cost of power, or necessary home upgrades. But to most customers, an EV is just a car that happens to run on electric fuel.  The utility has no natural credibility when it comes to the vehicle itself – its handling, acceleration, safety, trunk space, expert reviews and the other myriad factors that consumers take into account when purchasing a vehicle.

We believe that, in their efforts to engage EV customers, utilities should first understand where they have or don’t have credibility; built it where necessary; and then leverage it strategically to be seen as a trusted EV advisor.

Broadly speaking, utilities’ natural credibility can be split into three segments:

  • High credibility exists on topics such as charging, electricians, cost of electricity and, by extension, the electric-specific aspects of all-electric cars. On these topics, utilities benefit from natural trust. They should leverage that trust as an entry point for the messages they try to communicate to customers.
  • Growing credibility in topics such as government incentives, auto dealers, and electric-specific aspects of plug-in hybrids. These are not topics that utilities have traditionally touched. However, by partnering with the right players in the ecosystem, utilities can learn the fundamentals and start building trust with customers. This trust will be highly needed if utilities pursue the construction of a full end-to-end EV customer experience.
  • Low credibility. Utilities will likely never be seen as trusted advisors on gas cars, including hybrids of the non plug-in sort. In their customer engagement efforts, they should not overshoot and try to build credibility where is it neither warranted nor needed – that would not only lead to a waste of resources, but also potentially customer confusion and head scratching from regulators.

All in all, building credibility and capturing customer’s attention in an over-saturated sector such as automotive will remain a challenge for utilities. As a result, precious marketing resources have to be used wisely; a strategic approach to building credibility and the corresponding messaging is crucial.

What is your organization’s reputation and credibility in the EV space? What are you working on to improve it? Let us know.