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Are energy utilities giving customers what they want? Data points to no.

image credit: © Omar Osman |
David VanAmburg's picture
Managing Director The American Customer Satisfaction Index

David VanAmburg joined the American Customer Satisfaction Index in 1998 and was named Director for ACSI’s federal government satisfaction study in 1999, piloting the first-ever government-wide...

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  • May 22, 2020

This item is part of the Utility Customer Care - Spring 2020 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

The energy utilities sector continues its slide.

Following a 2.7% drop in customer satisfaction a year ago, energy utilities faltered yet again, dipping 1.5% to a score of 72 (on a 100-point scale) per the 2019-2020 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) Energy Utilities Report.

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While mending a two-year skid isn’t a simple fix, the sector wasn’t exactly flying blind. Last year’s report offered a blueprint for getting back in customers’ good graces, starting with improving green programs.

Alas, the message wasn’t received.

Green didn’t mean ‘go’

All three categories of energy utilities suffered downturns in customer satisfaction. Overall, investor-owned and municipal utilities each declined 1.4% to 72. Cooperative fell harder, down 2.7% to 73.  

Their efforts to support green initiatives didn’t fare well either. Each had scores at or near the bottom of all the customer satisfaction benchmarks they were measured by.

Among eco-friendly projects, investor-owned utilities received an ACSI score of 70. Municipal utilities earned the lowest mark of the three at 69. And cooperative utilities, despite a high score of 71, had a 4% drop in customer satisfaction.

Providers like PG&E, National Grid, American Electric Power, FirstEnergy, and Eversource scored well below the investor-owned utilities average for green initiatives. Smaller cooperatives and smaller municipal utilities suffered the same fate, scoring in the mid-to-high 60s.

If only a less-than-inspired commitment to green initiatives was the only thing plaguing the energy utilities sector.

Whatever happened to community?

In terms of supporting local communities, utilities providers missed the mark.

With an ACSI score of 70, plans to support the local community is the lowest customer satisfaction benchmark in the investor-owned utilities category, tied with efforts to support green programs. PG&E, American Electric Power, National Grid, and Eversource Energy each struggled mightily.

But the lack of initiatives wasn’t limited to these providers. Other investor-owned utilities like FirstEnergy, Xcel Energy, Exelon, Public Service Enterprise Group, and Dominion Energy could all be doing better.

Municipal utilities providers score better than investor-owned utilities in this area – but it’s close. The industry dropped 3% to an ACSI score of 72.

Cooperative utilities outpaced the others, but according to customers, efforts to support local communities are worse than a year ago, with their ACSI score falling 3% to 74. Smaller cooperatives have the most ground to make up.

Saving energy-saving ideas for later?

Customers craved information – specifically on energy-saving ideas. They didn’t get what they wanted.

Although investor-owned utilities outperformed the other two categories in this respect, the lack of movement in its score – unchanged at 73 – suggests it could be doing more.

PG&E, Eversource Energy, and American Power have the most work to do among individual providers.

Municipal utilities are doing a better job offering energy-saving ideas than they are supporting green programs – but that’s not saying much. Over the past year, customer satisfaction in the former fell 1% to 70, giving it the second-lowest score in the category.

While cooperative utilities fell between the other two with score of 71, the drop in customer satisfaction was the most significant. Like efforts to support green programs, this benchmark also plummeted 4% year over year and tied for the lowest score in the category.

Golden opportunity remains

A chasm still exists between energy utilities and customers. The message is clearer today than it was even two years ago: The people desire more green initiatives.

But it doesn’t stop there. Investor-owned, municipal, and cooperative utilities providers are struggling in their efforts to support their local community and offer energy-saving ideas.

The sector still has a chance to right the ship. By listening to customers and changing how they approach these three categories, energy utilities can take real strides in improving customer satisfaction.

Utilities providers didn’t listen to their customers the first time. They shouldn’t let this golden opportunity pass them by again.


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