My Utility, My Dog: Who Controls The Leash?

DEFG’s “2015 State of the Customer in the Utility Sector” Points to Paradox of High Customer Satisfaction but Low Customer Loyalty

Washington, DC … DEFG, a management consulting firm specializing in consumers and consumer-facing offerings in the utility sector released today the “2015 State of the Customer in the Utility Sector.” DEFG worked with the members of the Utility Customer Research Consortium (UCRC) in November 2015 to survey over 1,000 consumers. The national survey examined trends in customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, and customer preferences related to various facets of customer service in the utility sector. The headline finding points to 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,” stated Jamie Wimberly, the CEO of DEFG LLC. “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. 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 primary findings from the consumer survey are:

  • 55% of consumers in the U.S. gave their utility company’s customer service a top-3-box rating (rated 8, 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale). Adults over 55 gave a significantly more positive rating compared to their younger counterparts (63% top-3-box rating v. 46% among the younger adults)
  • Between one fourth and one third of consumers feel that they are getting comparatively better value from their electric company as compared to other service providers (such as cable, internet, mobile phone, and landline providers). Another 35%-50% feel the value is comparable to these other service providers
  • Approximately half of the respondents were very interested in using solar power that was owned by either them or generated by another provider. Additionally, half of them said they would be “more interested” if that “other provider” turned out to be their local electric utility
  • The majority of consumers believe that 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 that 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 feel the choices are adequate
  • In terms of pricing options, American consumers are most interested in conservation pricing and time of use pricing. “Green” pricing is of least interest to them
  • And finally, when asked if they would choose a different provider if given the option to do so, more than half of consumers surveyed did not have a strong feeling 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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