There’s no question that there is substantial benefit in engaging the public through basic safety education programs. These communications are the public’s main source—sometimes, the only source—of information about how to recognize, prevent, and respond safely to utility emergencies. These messages have proven to be effective in reducing the severity of incidents and averting potentially disastrous accidents.
But there’s more to the story. Beyond providing just “the basics,” when it comes to public safety awareness, utilities are increasingly recognizing that enhanced communication initiatives positively impact their image and reputation, as well as their bottom line.
Residential customers who know about the ways their local natural gas, electric, and water utilities protect the public express higher satisfaction than those who don’t know about their utilities’ safety-awareness efforts. The 2019 J.D. Power Utilities Satisfaction Outlook Survey shows that for residential gas customers, perception of the utility’s helpfulness in preparing for a safety issue drives a 121-point increase in customer satisfaction. Carl Lepper, Director of the Utility Practice at J.D. Power, reports, “Customers that recall receiving communications from their gas utility providers have a significantly higher satisfaction score.” He continues, “Specifically, if these providers are reaching out with information regarding reliability of natural gas delivery and important safety measures without seeming redundant or noisy, we have found those to be most effective.”
This last point is worth highlighting. Unlike their observed reactions to singular-focused brand advertising, customers, regulators, and local public officials do not object to significant levels of safety communication. In other words, the public wants to hear from their utilities about safety. Audience members recognize that they personally benefit from learning about what their utilities are doing to keep their communities safe, and they don’t consider public safety messages a self-serving action on the part of utilities.
And while it’s no surprise that customers don’t like rate increases, they strongly support utility investments made to improve safety and reliability. In a study conducted by Hahn Public Research, 73% of customers found safety messaging to be an acceptable justification for utility rate increase.
The Positive Impact of Brand Alignment and Personalization
Our own longitudinal research tracks the performance of natural gas, electric, and water utilities nationwide. The data confirms that when utility safety communications have been strategically brand-aligned, they enhance the utility’s reputation as a trusted and valued community partner. This helps to solidify public perceptions of the utility’s safety expertise and credibility, and helps further entrench utility safety behaviors among the at-risk public. It also fosters an ongoing dialogue that helps utilities better understand their stakeholders, and helps to build positive relationships with customers, contractors, community partners, regulators, and the investment community.
It’s not just about the quantity of information. The utilities that gain the most from their brand-aligned public safety outreach efforts rely on a customer-centric approach for every stakeholder group. Whether communicating with customers, community members living or working near utility infrastructure, at-risk workers, public officials, or emergency responders, the utility first needs to understand each segment’s needs and preferences. This will drive the strategic selection of messages, imagery, channels, and communication timing that will achieve the greatest impact.
Done right, the result is a “virtuous circle.” Once a utility has proven itself as an energy safety expert, the target audiences tend to look to the utility for more information. The company becomes the trusted, go-to source for accurate, timely advice, further establishing utility safety behaviors among the at-risk public and positively impacting relationships with customers, community stakeholders, and investors.
 Press release: Gas Utility Companies Tasked with Pushing Vital Safety Communications Effectively, J.D. Power and Associates, September 4, 2019.
 Rate Case Messaging: The Character/Competency Conundrum, Hahn Public Research, March 2016