In 2013, an Accenture study found that nearly three quarters (73%) of utility customers would, “Consider a provider other than a utility.” Customer satisfaction for utilities is lower than insurance, airlines, and retail banking, J.D. Power found in 2016. And those are not industries known for excellent customer experiences or great customer loyalty. It’s been a few years, but how much have things changed?
While customer satisfaction scores have improved somewhat since 2013, the change is uneven and slow. Two years after the Accenture study, J.D. Power measured an improvement in satisfaction, unfortunately the cause was attributable to price changes for gas resellers. After another three years, the ACSI Utilities, Shipping, and Health Care Report 2018 measured an improvement in satisfaction. Municipal utilities alone accounted for the change. They represent approximately 30% of the US utility market. Unfortunately the rest of the market was the same — or worse.
The overall rate of improvement, when there is any, is slow. The 2018 ACSI report notes that customer satisfaction, “inch[ed] up by 0.4% to… 75.2,” of 100 points. Unfortunately, this “glacial” rate of adaptation appears to characterize utilities right now — despite the, rapid change in the industry landscape.
It is not surprising that some utilities report developing their own customer satisfaction assessments. A study by GTM Research found that: “Utilities are looking in-house to assess customer-centric performances, foregoing traditional customer benchmarks….”
That is a good idea if they do it well and corroborate with independent information. Unfortunately, many seem to ignore independent customer satisfaction scores. “Many had little knowledge of their JD Power customer satisfaction scores…, and many are placing increasing emphasis on their own, proprietary measures of satisfaction,” GTM Research found.
Ignoring independent experts is unwise. Internal assessments may offer valuable detail, but they require vigilant monitoring. And ignoring outside information looks dangerous because outside information is a check on groupthink. Utilities do not need to make any overt decision to stick their proverbial heads in the sand. Groupthink often spreads undetected until it is too late.
Utilities that still have monopolies must be even more careful. They do not have the kind of direct feedback that the marketplace provides, and they need to make sure that their monopolies remain justified. Tech giants are ready to unseat even municipal utilities, as they have with banking, another industry with historically low customer satisfaction.
The ubiquitous cost-plus monopoly business model once allowed for a simple, one-size-fits-all approach to customers. While that was easy for utilities, it also made the utilities nearly identical to each other from the customers’ point of view — and nearly invisible — except when something went wrong.
In today’s world, electric, gas and water utilities face new challenges.
Customer satisfaction scores illustrate inadequacy of old, weak customer relationship when facing technological change, and the difficulty utilities have in adapting.
What should utilities do?
There are new opportunities for utilities willing to respond strategically. Satisfaction rates improve when the utility changes how it interacts with customers, and utilities have started to act on this information. “In recent years [utilities started showing] interest in customer satisfaction. And in the top performers, it’s starting to become ingrained, culturally.” John Hazen, J.D. Power’s utility practice senior director told UtilityDive in 2016.
Communication and customer control are the heart of customer satisfaction now. The, “key to improving customer service is, ‘a culture that puts customers and employees first,’” UtilityDive said, quoting Hazen. The year prior J.D. Power found, “A 33-point increase in communications,” was the only non-price contributor to improved customer satisfaction.
This suggests a two-part solution:
Customer satisfaction demands an interactive, data-driven customer experience that gives them instantaneous access to information and control over their responses. With Brilliency, you can improve your customer satisfaction and start gathering the information for more sophisticated and informed decision-making today. While the information starts flowing, you give your customers instantaneous control and access to information customized for them, individually.