If your utility was an animal what would it be?

Working with the Utility Customer Research Consortium (UCRC), management consulting firm DEFG has released the results of its “2015 State of the Customer in the Utility Sector.”

The national survey of more than 1,000 consumers examined trends in customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, and customer preferences related to various facets of customer service in the utility sector.

The findings demonstrate the tension between generally high customer satisfaction and equally high customer interest in possibly choosing a different electricity supplier if given the choice.

“On one hand, the utility sector is doing a good to great job in regard to customer satisfaction. Utility customer service rated very highly in our survey and compared favorably in every case against other local service providers such as telephone or cable,” said Jamie Wimberly, CEO, DEFG. “On the other hand, when consumers were asked about their interest in residential solar, almost half of the respondents were extremely interested. Even more directly, when asked if they would choose another electricity provider than their local utility if given the choice, one in five respondents said they would exit. The upshot is that any given utility could be in the first quartile of customer satisfaction rankings, and yet still lose customers over time.”

The survey also found that 55 percent of consumers in the U.S. gave their utility company’s customer service a top-3-box rating (8, 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale). Adults over 55 gave a significantly more positive rating compared to their younger counterparts (63 percent top-3-box rating v. 46 percent among the younger adults).

Between one-fourth and one-third of consumers feel they are getting comparatively better value from their electric company as compared to other service providers like cable, internet, mobile phone, and landline providers. Another 35 percent to 50 percent say the value is comparable to other such service providers.

Approximately half of the respondents were very interested in using solar power that either they owned or was generated by another provider. Additionally, half said they would be more interested if that other provider was their local electric utility.

The majority of consumers believe their utility company gives them the right amount of information and an adequate number of choices to help them manage their monthly usage and costs. By comparison, less than half feel their electric company provides an adequate number of rate options and choices for their electric service, with men and higher-income adults significantly more likely to believe the choices are adequate.

In terms of pricing options, American consumers are most interested in conservation pricing and time of use. “Green” pricing is of least interest.

Finally, when asked if they would choose a different provider given the option, more than half did not feel strongly one way or the other. Approximately one-quarter gave a top-3-box (likely to change) rating, while a similar number gave a bottom-3-box (not likely).

“We asked consumers to use a one-word description of an animal to describe their local electric utility’s customer service, and, by far, they replied that their utility’s customer service was a ‘dog,'” Wimberly continued. “A dog is actually a good metaphor. On one hand, a dog can be loyal and by your side. On the other hand, a dog can have a mind of its own. Given the survey results around high customer satisfaction and low customer loyalty, you have to wonder who really controls the leash though.”

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