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Utilities can’t afford to overlook these customer satisfaction areas

image credit: The American Customer Satisfaction Index
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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  • Apr 5, 2019 12:15 pm GMT

This item is part of the Special Issue - 2019-05 - Customer Care, click here for more

The energy utilities sector has seen better days.

According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index’s (ACSI) most recent Energy Utilities Report, the sector experienced a major downturn in customer satisfaction, dropping 2.7% to an ACSI score of 73.2 (100-point scale).

Each of the sector’s three categories – cooperative utilities, municipal utilities, and investor-owned utilities – suffered the same fate, with cooperative falling 2.6% to 75 and both municipal and investor-owned spiraling 2.7% to a mark of 73.

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While I’ll be discussing the negative pattern seen in investor-owned utilities, the largest category in this sector, similar deteriorating customer experiences have impacted all measured utilities. To restore the eroded customer satisfaction, utility companies must move quickly.

The struggle energy utilities face

Customers don’t think much of energy utilitiessupport for green programs. The score for those initiatives planted them at the bottom among individual customer experience benchmarks. Unfortunately, this isn’t where the problems end for energy utilities.

Per the report, each and every aspect of the residential customer experience among investor-owned energy utilities is worse off compared to last year. In fact, some benchmarks – specifically, the ability to provide reliable electric services, website satisfaction, and the ability to restore electric services after an outage – didn’t just fall, they fell dramatically.

Although it’s important for utilities to address all their shortcomings, they simply can’t afford to let the customer experience benchmarks fall by the wayside. Why? Because of customer expectations.

The most basic customer expectation

Investor-owned utilities’ ability to provide reliable electric service has become an issue.

Despite this benchmark’s ACSI score of 80 (top in the category), investor-owned utilities plummeted in the category 4% year over year. The industry cannot afford for this to keep happening – customers simply won’t tolerate it.

If customers are going to pay for a service, they expect it to work. In addition to service, customers are focused on “power, quality, and reliability” and a “developing trend toward ‘resiliency.’”

Utilities need to adapt to the needs, wants, and uses of this growing customer base. These customers are more informed, more engaged, more reliant on technology (not ideal for a sub-par electric grid), and more willing to pursue alternative solutions.

This website is…

Difficult to navigate. Confusing. Slow. Take your pick – these are all problems.

For whatever reason, customers have had serious complaints about websites in this sector.

Over the past year, website satisfaction in investor-owned energy utilities declined 3% to an ACSI score of 78. For a consumer base that’s becoming increasingly invested in online services, a continued spiral in this area could hurt the industry as a whole.

Nowadays, customers use energy utilities’ websites for numerous reasons. They pay their bills, check overall energy usage, and even learn about upcoming promotions and offers. Energy utilities can’t let their websites get worse. The more reliant we become on technology and the more we demand from it, the more important it is for companies to have not only a functioning website, but a well-developed one, too.

The power is out. Now what?

We’ve all found ourselves in this situation before.

A storm – or some other freak incident – knocks out the power. All that’s left for customers to do at this point is light some candles and wait for the power to be restored. The question is, how much do they trust the power company will get the job done in a reasonable amount of time?

Over the last year, let’s just say trust has eroded.

Customers are losing faith in the ability of investor-owned energy utilities to restore service after an outage, as satisfaction nosedived 5% to an ACSI score of 76. No other benchmark has suffered a hit so catastrophic, and this couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Extreme weather incidents. Heatwaves. Wildfires. The effects of global warming are “playing out in real time,” according to Professor Michael Mann at Penn State University. As changed weather patterns either create increased energy needs or knock out the grid, utility companies need a plan to compensate.

Unless energy utilities take action, the incidents will persist and customer satisfaction will continue to decline. The better your company responds to these crises, the more faith customers will put in you, and the more market share you’ll be able to take over.

There’s work to be done

Investor-owned energy utilities have experienced plummeting benchmarks across the board.

However, if they’re looking for a place to start, ensuring reliable electric service, increasing website satisfaction, and improving their ability to restore power after an outage, could all help.

After all, there’s a reason these three benchmarks experienced the greatest drop-offs over the past year. 

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