Customer Feedback Works

Look at your electricity bill.  Now look at mine.  Mine looks different, no?  Sadly, many utilities across the continent have not cottoned on to the idea that simply telling  their customers about their consumption habits, is a GREAT way to motivate desirable behaviours. 

My bill includes a simple graphic that compares last year’s monthly usage of kiloWatt-hours with this year’s.

Here I have enlarged the pertinent section:

As you can see, I have used a bunch less juice in 2010.  What changed?  Well, I invested about 20 bucks in a programmable thermostat last fall.  Since our house is heated by hydro, that alone was enough to save us about 1000 kWhs per month through the coldest part of the winter.  I figure that little gadget’s ROI is about 20:1, and climbing.  It paid for itself by December 15th.  (Never mind that we had a mild winter compared to 2009 – the facts should never stand in the way of a good story.)

Why don’t more companies do this sort of thing?  It would be especially easy in Web 2.0ville.


People Are Irrational

No news there, I know.  But sometimes the sheer force of this truism overwhelms me.  There are two issues in the news around my home province these days that are drawing more attention than H1N1, if you can believe that.  The first is the proposed sale of our provincial electrical utility to a neighbouring province’s; the second is a proposed by-law in the city of Dieppe that would force business owners to make exterior signage bilingual.

Let’s examine the first one first.  I won’t pretend to be an expert on all the nuances, but essentially the facts as I understand them are as follows:  Hydro Québec wants to pay about $5B for most of the assets of NB Power.  NB Power has not been well-managed in the last few years, including a couple of well-publicized and expensive screw-ups like a botched purchasing arrangement of orimulsion fossil fuel from Venezuela and an $800M+ cost overrun on the Point Lepreau nuclear generating station refurbishment.  NB Power is also carrying $4B+ in debt.  Why would Hydro Québec want such an albatross?  Well, for one reason, it is fundamentally a sound infrastructure, despite the recent woes; but more importantly, our (NB’s) transmission grid is the only way to get power from the vast hydroelectric projects in Labrador into the lucrative New England market (other than through Québec itself).  So we have something they want (access), and they have something we want (money and proven management strength).  Sounds like a good deal, right?

When it was first announced a few weeks ago, it came with another perquisite – the new utility would lower industrial power rates by 30% (arguably creating jobs), and freeze residential power rates for 5 years.  I figured it would be a slam-dunk for public approval, with that one-two punch benefit to people’s wallets.  Except it hasn’t been – the paper today said that 60% of citizens are AGAINST the deal.

The reasons for this are, as the title of this post implies, in my opinion, irrational.  They range from, “we can’t give control of our power to a Frenchy separatist foreign bohemian province-state,” to, “they’re OUR dams/coal-burners/towers/wires/jobs – what will we sell next?   The Bay of Fundy?”  I haven’t heard a single argument that says it’s a bad business decision, only ones that lean on these emotional triggers.

The second brouhaha going on is Dieppe City Council’s stated aim to pass a bylaw that would require all NEW exterior business signage to be bilingual, or optionally, French-only.  A bit of background for non-NBers:  Dieppe is about 70% francophone.  It is part of the Moncton metropolitan area, which also includes Moncton (about 30% francophone) and Riverview (about 10% francophone).*

To my feeble mind, it seems like a harmless, and perhaps even beneficial move.  It would incur no cost to anyone, except for the incremental paint expenditure for a new business owner.  It would add to the Acadian pride of the community, and make it a more charming destination for Americans.  For God’s sakes, there are already French-only signs on some businesses (Croissant Soleil, Restaurant L’Idylle), and nobody has had a life-threatening episode so far.

But for some reason it is bringing to many people’s minds the L’Office de la Langue Française, Bill 101, and the “Language Police” in Québec in the ’80s.  Which is a totally inaccurate analogy – Bill 101 was about eliminating  a language from public view; Dieppe’s move is about promoting  a language.

I feel sorry for the politicians that are trying to reason with the populace about these issues; because the ones that are raising a ruckus are beyond  reason.  If I were marketing these messages to the public, I would ditch the rational arguments and create some emotional ones.  How about, “We’re not selling our utility; we’re using our unique geographic position to screw the Québecers out of 5 billion dollars!  That’s over $7,000 for every man, woman and child in New Brunswick!”  And, “We’re not imposing language legislation, we’re creating a tourist attraction!  The continent’s only bilingual sign city!”

* Numbers made up, but probably accurate ± 5%.