Utilities have done a good job in serving customers that are designated as key accounts. Typically these customers have a high energy demand, bring in a notable amount of revenue for the utility and are important to the communities they serve. Key account customers bring many jobs, often create products and services that are vital to the local residents, and by calling that community home they can bring prestige to a city or county, especially if they are a nationally recognized brand or manufacturer.
Though utilities vary greatly in how they define a key account, nearly all have a program that designates a utility employee to personally oversee and take care of key account customers.
J.D. Power and Associates Electric Utility Business and Gas Utility Business customer satisfaction studies find that customers who have a key account manager assigned to them are far more satisfied than the average busines customer. No surprise there. After all, these customers get the red carpet treatment. So then, how is a utility to improve upon a service level that is the best among its customer base?
In an effort to answer this question, we looked at our business customer satisfaction data, analyzing only responses from those customers who have assigned utility account managers. This uncovered some interesting insights.
For starters, J.D. Power found that in-person contact is vital. If there is an account manager assigned to the customer, they need to be making regular visits with that customer, or at least as many visits as the customer wants. There is evidence, however, that some utilities have actually reduced in-person contact, perhaps in an effort to contain costs. Email and phone communication among managed account customers increased from 2012 to 2013, while in-person visits decreased in that same time period.
We also found that customers feel their assigned account reps are very professional and knowledgeable. But there are areas for improvement here, as well. Customers rated their assigned account managers lower on their concern for the customers’ business needs. While professionalism and knowledge should be standards for any utility employee, it is essential that top customers feel their utility contact person is actually concerned about their business needs. The highest performing utilities convey this concern by ensuring their managers understand which energy-related products may help their customers succeed and working to help customers reduce their energy use intensity and overall energy costs, helping them use energy more wisely based on their business demands.
Another interesting finding: despite efforts to better identify and serve midsize business customers, satisfaction for this mid-range of business customers seems to have remained flat in recent years, all while large business and small business customer satisfaction has trended upward.
Midsize businesses are customers not necessarily big enough to have an assigned account manager, but large enough to have some level of specialized service; often they may have an assigned call center representative or a designated phone number to call, or an account manager they don’t often see. If they are caught in between with changing efforts in how they are communicated with and served, this may be impacting their satisfaction.
Yes, key and managed account customers get the most attention, much the same way frequent fliers or rewards customers get special treatment by their airlines and hotels, respectively. Still, there is room for improvement in key account customer satisfaction. It all starts with utilities understanding what influences their key account customers’ experience.
These and other findings are covered in the latest J.D. Power Customer Impact Report on Key and Managed Account Interaction. For information about this and other Customer Impact Reports, email me at email@example.com.
Utilities are not the only ones struggling with how to get more customers migrated to online and mobile billing services. This became clear while talking with people at the NACHA-Payments 2013 Conference earlier this week in San Diego.
J.D. Power and Associates research shows that customers who use electronic channels -Web and mobile -to view and pay their bills or undertake just about any customer service transaction are more satisified. Still, while more customers have gone to electronic payment methods, most remain on traditional channels when it comes to making a service phone call or receiving a paper bill in the mail. I was asked by someone in the insurance business that, if in fact customers are more satisfied on Web and mobile service channels, what is it that she could do to get more customers to go there now that the mobile website and apps have been built. This was unexpected, since most utility professionals I know seem to think other industries – including insurance - have all the answers.
But there is no easy answer to that question. The fact is Continue reading ›
While electric vehicle sales in the U.S. during the first quarter of 2013 rose substantially from the same quarter last year (+173%), the pace of EV sales has declined from the final quarter of 2012 (-18%). 18,269 electric vehicles were sold during the first three months of 2013, compared with just 6,678 units for the same three month period last year. However, the final three months of 2012 saw an even faster sales pace of 22,245 units. The decline in EV sales from the previous quarter is in contrast to an increase in total vehicle sales in the U.S. (+6.5%).
Ten different EV models were offered for sale during Q4 2012, and now there are 13 EV models avialable in the U.S.
Among the 75 utility companies included in the study, AEP, OG& E and Southern Company perform particularly well in overall customer satisfaction with utility websites when viewed from a desktop computer. DTE Energy, FirstEnergy and Public Service of New Hampshire perform well in overall satisfaction among customers who view the website from a mobile device.
The 2013 Utility Website Evaluation Study (UWES) is based on evaluations from more than 11,000 electric and/or gas residential customers, with 2,819 providing feedback about their online experience using a mobile device. The 75 largest U.S. electric and/or gas companies are included in the study, which was fielded in February and March 2013.
Amid a reduction in local and customer-focused activities, overall customer satisfaction declines among business gas utility customers, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2013 Gas Utility Business Customer Satisfaction StudySM released today.
“Overall, there are fewer touches being made in corporate citizenship and in communications, which has negatively impacted customer satisfaction,” said Chris Oberle, senior director of the energy practice at J.D. Power and Associates. “The customer-focused approach used to increase satisfaction in the 2012 study has somewhat waned, as utility companies receive lower awareness of their local support and economic development efforts this year.”
The study finds that local and community efforts are also declining, directly impacting customer perception of corporate citizenship. Business customer awareness of utility efforts regarding environmental efforts declines to 31 percent in 2013, down from 38 percent in 2012. Additionally, customer awareness of a utility’s local support and donations declines five percentage points year over year to 24 percent in 2013.
Read more in the Press Release …
Business customer satisfaction with electric utility communications increases (+4), while overall satisfaction declines (-10), according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2013 Electric Utility Business Customer Satisfaction Study SM released today.
Despite severe storm impacts, satisfaction with power quality & reliability declined only slightly (-3). Utilities did a good job keeping businesses informed about outages and promised ETRs we met.
The area in which utilities are facing significant criticism is in corporate citizenship, where business customers are critical of utility efforts to develop energy supply plans for the future as well as utilities showing business leadership in local communities.
Within each of the four geographic regions included in the study, utility providers are classified into one of two segments: large (serving 85,000 or more business customers) and midsize (serving between 25,000 and 84,999 business customers). Rankings within each region and segment are as follows:
PPL Electric Utilities ranks highest among large electric utility providers in the East Region with a score of 664. Among midsize electric utilities in the East Region, Central Maine Power (654) ranks highest for the second consecutive year.
In the Midwest Region, We Energies (669) ranks highest among large electric utilities, while Indianapolis Power & Light Company ranks highest among midsize brands with a score of 676.
Georgia Power (695) ranks highest among large utilities in the South Region. Among midsize electric utilities, Entergy Texas ranks highest with a score of 687.
Portland General Electric (694) ranks highest among large electric utilities in the West Region. Among midsize electric utility providers, Seattle City Light ranks highest (689).
The 2013 Electric Utility Business Customer Satisfaction Study is based on responses from more than 25,700 online interviews with business customers of the 95 largest utility brands throughout the United States. The study was fielded from April through June 2012 and September through December 2012.
Read more in this link to the press release.
Yesterday the 2013 DistribuTECH Conference and Exhibition concluded in San Diego. For background DistribuTECH is one of the utility industry’s leading smart grid conference and exposition, covering automation and control systems, energy efficiency, demand response, renewable energy integration, advanced metering, T&D system operation and reliability, power delivery equipment, water utility technology, and customer service and engagement.
I had the chance to attend this year’s event, and had the pleasure of sitting in on a number of enlightening presentations and panel discussions, but my favorite was a panel discussion entitled Residential Customer Service Best Practices. David Elve, Chief Marketing Officer at PayGo, moderated this session which had customer service executives from four major investor-owned utilities describe how they use smart grid information, leading technologies, and new business processes to better manage customer engagement.
The participating utility executives were Barbara Jackson from Oncor, Caroline Winn from San Diego Gas & Electric, Bryan Olnick from Florida Power & Light Co., and Steven Malnight from PG&E. The panel discussed their programs, technologies, plans for enhancements, and lessons learned to date.
One of the themes of the panel discussion was that utilities cannot over communicate when informing customers about smart meter rollouts or new programs and services. According to Brian Olnick, utilities need to focus their communication efforts not just on the individual customers, but on all appropriate stakeholders, which can also include organizations such as churches and civic groups.
Another theme was that critical peak rebates seem to be resonating with utility customers. Critical peak rebates allow utilities to call critical events during pre-specified time periods (e.g., 4 p.m.—7 p.m. on summer weekday afternoons). During these events the price for electricity remains the same, but the customer is refunded at a single, predetermined value for any reduction in consumption relative to what the utility deemed the customer was expected to consume. According to Steven Malnight at PG&E, their critical peak rebate participants have saved an average of 8% on their electricity bill.
With the evolution of smart meters and other new technologies the utilities are also finding that key performance indicators are changing. Some of the newer metrics that the panelists have adopted include percentage of customers using “self-service” tools, the number of proactive communications sent, the amount of peak reduction achieved, and increased social media activity.
Thanks to David Elve for putting together such a thought provoking panel and to Penwell for another great event!
Earlier this week I had the pleasure of attending the annual symposium of the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC) in San Diego. For background the SGCC is a nonprofit organization chartered to represent consumers, advocates, utilities, and technology providers in order to advance the adoption of a reliable, efficient, and secure smart grid and ensure long-lasting sustainable benefits to consumers.
The symposium consisted of a number of presentations and panel discussions that focused on issues such as consumer education, communication strategies, social media, and customer engagement
My favorite presentation of the day was from David Lawrence of San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E). He provided an excellent presentation on SDG&E’s social media efforts. His presentation confirmed the findings of recent research conducted at J.D. Power and Associates that interaction within the social media sphere is growing at a rapid pace, and customers’ expectations regarding a utility’s responsibility to respond to their online posts, as well as the concerns they have expressed, have dramatically increased during the past few years.
According to Lawrence, utilities should create a social media strategy with clear goals and objectives that tie to the utility;s business goals. He also suggested that utilities need to become story tellers, as storytelling is the best way to execute a social media strategy because people do not connect with companies but rather stories.
In effort to recognize SGCC members that serve as role models within the industry in the development and implementation of consumer education programs, SGCC presented a top utility and top non-utility award. The winners this year were Comverge for their IntelliMARKET, IntelliSUPPORT and SmartPrice™ Programs and Southern California Edison for their Edison SmartConnect® Program.
Kudos to Patty Durand and her team for an informative symposium!
Electric Light & Power conducted their annual Executive Conference in conjunction with DistribuTECH 2013 this week in San Diego. I very much enjoy this forum and what differentiates EL & P’s approach is anchoring their sessions with speakers who are not usually featured at these kinds of events; but have relevant messages around the issues we face in our respective roles back at the office. This year’s list included: Danielle DiMartino Booth from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Michael Reagan, (elder son of the President Reagan), and Jerry Zucker, Hollywood filmmaker.
Danielle DiMartino Booth always provides a real and sometimes sobering perspective regarding the macro economic challenges we face as a nation, and provokes her audience to examine the current state, and to consider the economic environment we operate our businesses in each day. She spoke specifically to the recovery of the housing market and why this is important to the electric utility industry. I always leave Ms. DiMartino Booth’s sessions with more questions than answers, but that is the objective and again what differentiates the approach Electric Light & Power uses in conducting their executive sessions.
Michael Reagan addressed how his father would manage these challenging political times, and took the audience on a journey into the mindset and values of who many believe is America’s most admired president. In addition to providing the audience a behind the scenes view of the campaign trail and into the private residence of the Reagan White House, Michael Reagan provided insight into policy and how President Reagan believed America must use all its resources to become energy independent.
Jerry Zuker, one of Holllywood’s most successful filmmakers delivered a message about reaching your audience and creating messages that resonate. Zuker is the creative genius behind movies such as “Airplane”, the “Naked Gun” series, “Ghost”, and “Friends with Benefits”. His perspective on the energy market comes from being the co-chair of The National Academy of Science & Entertainment Exchange, which is hosting a Future of Energy day for several hundred leading producers, directors, and writers who will interact with prominent energy experts and groundbreaking energy companies.
The keynotes were complimented with engaging executive member panels on topical issues such as: ”The scorecard for smart grid”, ”What will the blueprint for the utility of the future look like?” and ”Preparing for disruptive events”.
Electric Light & Power also hosts an Awards Dinner and recognizes three categories: “Small Utility CEO of the Year”, “Large Utility CEO of the Year”, and “Utility of the Year”. This year’s recipients were:
- Small Utility CEO of the Year: Walter W. Haase, General Manager, Navajo Tribal Utility Authority
- Large Utility CEO of the Year: Joseph M. Rigby, Chairman, President and CEO, Pepco Holdings Inc.
- Utility of the Year: Southern Company; accepting was Thomas A. Fanning, Chairman, President and CEO
I encourage each of you to attend this event next year, you will not be disappointed – January 27 – 29, 2014, San Antonio, Texas
…and thanks to Michael Grossman, Publisher and Teresa Hansen, Editor in Chief
David E. Steele, CMC