Public utilities across California face increased costs to operate effectively, meet increasing regulatory requirements and replenish low reserves. California’s infrastructure is in poor shape and it’s a battle to keep it working properly if rates can’t support improvements. It can be tough to explain rising rates, financial and infrastructure improvement needs and new rate structures to customers.
My firm Lucy & Company has managed over 60 Prop 218 rate outreach programs in the last 24 years. We understand how to engage a customer base. Our experience shows that ratepayers will accept and support rate increases if they understand the need, feel ownership of the system and, most importantly, have their voices heard and their input truly considered.
Check out our 9 Proven Steps for Successful Rate Outreach:
- Clearly explain the services you provide, cost of services and how rates fund each service.
- Conduct qualitative and/or quantitative research to determine community priorities, opportunities and concerns, and messages and programs that will resonate the most. Focus groups, stakeholder interviews and phone/web surveys are the most common research methods.
- Define how increased rates will allow for infrastructure improvements, more efficient and effective operations, fund innovative technologies, incentivize conservation/recycling, etc.
- Establish how community input will be solicited, responded to and considered.
- Define the “elevator pitch” for your top three rate justification messages. Frame your messaging in a relatable and understandable way.
- Be visual in your materials! Use photos, charts, graphs and call outs to highlight what’s most important.
- Engage your elected officials first, then ratepayers, influencers and stakeholders through briefings, community meetings, neighborhood group presentations and community events.
- Transparently include details and copies of reports, financial plans, rate studies, CIP programs and audits in a centralized, online location for public review.
- Listen to your customers, revise and modify appropriate items based on customer feedback and provide information requests as quickly as possible. This builds customer trust, which helps immensely.
Each community has its own personality so our outreach solutions always vary for our clients. If you follow these steps, your process and outcome will be successful. Good luck!