Communications with customers during power outages is one of the areas where electric utilities can make a hard impact on customer satisfaction, either positive or negative. Get customers the accurate information they crave, and you can win them over; leave them in the proverbial as well as literal darkness and, well, they’re not going to have a high opinion of you.
Issues that impact the utility customer experience raise lots of questions. In this case:
- What does it take to get the appropriate message out to customers?
- How do you get all facets of the organization on board?
- What do customers really expect?
J.D. Power has profiled the practices of the highest performing utilities in the realm of outage communications and surveyed thousands of customers nationwide on both their experiences during power outages as well as their preferences for receiving information when outages occur. Continue reading ›
The subject of trust has been on the minds of many utility executives lately. It is, after all, important in an industry where the business depends on regulatory oversight to have the trust of one’s customers and other stakeholders. But what is trust, and how does it relate to utilities?
A quick search of the online Merriam-Webster dictionary brings up several definitions of “trust.” When it comes to utility angst, the following two are probably most applicable:
- 1 a : assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something; b : one in which confidence is placed
- 5 a (1): a charge or duty imposed in faith or confidence or as a condition of some relationship (2): something committed or entrusted to one to be used or cared for in the interest of another b: responsible charge or office
Utilities by nature have a difficult path to customer satisfaction. As an occasional business traveler who has an interest in how utilities are perceived, I often ask the taxi driver who picks me up from the airport what they think of their local utility. Almost always the answer is something to akin to: “Well, I can’t choose who I get power from, but they’re okay.” Occasionally there’s a passionate reply one way or the other, but this is the typical comeback.
In an environment where utilities are monopolies, one would think trust suffers. The reality is that most customers may simply be more apathetic than have a deep distrust of their utility. Continue reading ›
Approximately 19% of consumers are unaware of any products and services provided by their electric utility. On its face, this statistic doesn’t sound so bad for utility marketing executives. After all, the simple math shows us that more than 4 in 5 customers would then be aware. A closer examination of data from the all-new J.D. Power 2013 Consumer Engagement StudySM, however, reveals it is not quite that simple of an equation.
Most of the customer awareness is in E-Bill, or electronic billing and payment offerings. In fact, when customers were asked how many products and services they had knowledge of, another 12% of customers in the study were only aware of one product, and more than half of those (51%) cited E-Bill as the one product with which they are familiar. In all, 53% of customers know about E-Bill, almost twice as many as the next most-familiar product, the in-home energy audit (28%).
It should be noted that many utilities want more usage and adoption of electronic billing and payment, so the fact that E-Bill is tops among customer awareness is good news. More customers are also enrolled in E-Bill than any other program or service, the J.D. Power study reveals.
So why then are these study findings a mixed bag for utilities? Continue reading ›
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.