Utilities That Communicate with Customers Score Points in J.D. Power Study

Businesses are substantially more satisfied with their electricity providers this year, reaching an eight-year high, despite having to call their service providers twice as often and having their issues resolved significantly less often then residential customers, according to the latest J.D. Power 2016 Electric Utility Business Customer Satisfaction Study.

According to the data collected by J.D. Power, regardless of the contact channel, twice as many business customers contact their electric utility provider twice as often as residential customers. For example, 48 percent of business customers contact their provider via telephone, compared with 23 percent of residential customers.

When they do contact their utilities, the problem resolution rate over the phone is only 67 percent among businesses, compared with 71 percent among residential customers.

Despite those numbers, though, overall satisfaction among electric utility business customers came in at 704 (on a 1,000-point scale), a significant increase from 677 in 2015 and the highest level in eight years.

John Hazen, director of the energy practice at J.D. Power, credits utilities with better, more proactive customer communications. "From a pure customer service perspective, utility customers want proactive communications. They want to be contacted via email, text, or phone call. That drives higher satisfaction," he says.

Of course customers want their service providers to reach out when there is an outage. "If there is an outage, I want the utility to chase me with information," Hazen says. "I do not want to have to call the contact center and deal with all that's there to get the information I need."

Proactively providing billing alerts also goes a long way. Satisfaction is 776 when providers send alerts to let customers know when bills are due or overdue and jumps to 798 when they send customers confirmation that their payments were received. Satisfaction was just 708 for utilities that do not send out billing notifications.

Customers also appreciate when utilities reach out to let them know that their bills will be higher or lower than usual, because of the weather, for example. "From a customer experience perspective, it's much better because you're reaching out to me. It eliminates the need for me to call you when I get my bill," Hazen says.

The 2016 Electric Utility Business Customer Satisfaction Study is based on responses from more than 21,000 online interviews with business customers who spend at least $200 a month on electricity. The study, now in its 17th year, measures satisfaction among business customers of 102 targeted U.S. electric utilities that each serve more than 25,000 business customers. Overall satisfaction is examined across six factors: power quality and reliability; corporate citizenship; price; billing and payment; communications; and customer service.

Among all the providers in the study, 53 pulled down overall satisfaction scores above 700 this year, while in 2014 only four providers achieved similar scores.

"Utilities didn't recognize the importance of customer satisfaction five years ago," Hazen says. "Now it's hugely important. The whole customer experience with utilities today is much better."

Though the study focused specifically on the utilities industry, the lessons learned transcend verticals.

"Regardless of industry, it's all about customer engagement," Hazen suggests. "You need to proactively reach out to customers with information that is relevant to them."

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Posted February 18, 2015