Good, old-fashioned communications

August 26, 2014

In this age of whiz-bang communications, it’s easy to forget that sometimes, the best way to get your message across is through good old-fashioned one-on-one conversations.

The City of Seattle’s ongoing effort to help thousands of building owners assess their property’s energy use is a prime example of the power of personal contact.

Owners of Seattle’s commercial and multi-family residential buildings 20,000 square feet or larger are required by the City to rate and report their property’s energy use every year. For many owners, this is unchartered territory.

Luckily, the City of Seattle provides one-on-one telephone and email support to help them complete the process. To date, the city has assisted owners of nearly 2,500 buildings assess their properties’ energy use and point them to energy-savings opportunities.

We recently conducted an evaluation of Seattle’s help desk operations in 2013 and found that it was more than just a technical support line: it was a lifeline for building owners and managers, and played a major role in boosting compliance rates, improving data accuracy and creating goodwill among owners and managers required to comply with the law.

A few key findings from our analysis:

  • Seattle’s help desk fielded 9,695 telephone and email inquiries in 2013 alone.
  • The vast majority of inquiries (83%) were responded to on the same day; and nearly all (98%) were responded to in three days or less.
  • Help desk staffers assisted representatives of 2,451 buildings, or 2/3 of all buildings required to comply in 2013.
  • Help desk staffers were instrumental in helping owners assess their building’s energy use, correct data inaccuracies, and solve technical issues with energy-use tracking systems. All owners interviewed for this analysis said they would not have been able to complete the process without help desk assistance.
  • Providing owners with personal support creates trust and opens the door for future conversations about improving building efficiency.

Don’t take my word for it. Here are a few quotes from help desk users:

“The help desk staff was wonderful. I don’t know that we would have hit the deadline on time without support from the help desk.”

“The help desk rocks! If they can’t find it, they are diligently figuring it out and getting back to me.”

“I was absolutely satisfied with support I received from the help desk. They have all been wonderful. I could name every one of them!”

Today, Seattle boasts the highest compliance rates in the nation for its building energy ordinance – in the 90th percentile. The city’s success goes to show that one-on-one communications – real conversations between energy efficiency advocates and energy users – are key to building trust and goodwill, and can ultimately help move people to take action to save energy.

Interested in learning more? Read the summary of our report, or visit for the full report.

Debbie Slobe & Gregory Heller