Business customers rate SRP first in customer service

WAPA customer Salt River Project (SRP) You are leaving WAPA.gov. once again earned a top spot on the J.D. Power 2016 Calendar-Year Electric Utility Business Customer Satisfaction Study, You are leaving WAPA.gov. released Jan. 11. This is the fourth consecutive year and the seventh time in the last eight years SRP ranked highest in customer satisfaction for business electric service among large electricity providers in the West Region. The region covers Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

(Art by JD Power)

SRP’s overall customer satisfaction index was 797 out of a possible 1,000 points in the annual study – a 50-point performance increase from last year. The study examines overall satisfaction across six factors (in order of importance): power quality and reliability; corporate citizenship; price; billing and payment; communications and customer service. SRP scored highest in its category in power quality and reliability, corporate citizenship, billing and payment and communications.

More communication
According to the study, utilities are becoming more aware of the importance of engaging with their business customers, which is reflected in increasing communication. The study found that 52 percent of business customers recall at least one communication from their utility in the past six months, up from 49 percent last year.

“It is remarkable how utilities have improved as an industry in understanding the importance of being customer-focused,” said John Hazen, J.D. Power director in the utility and infrastructure practice. “In doing so, they hope to not only improve their financial performance, but also to be viewed more favorably by regulators.”

He added that business customers also tend to be more supportive of the investment plans utilities have in such projects as updating or developing their infrastructure.

Other findings
The study noted three more important trends in 2016:

  • Power outages – While the number of brief and lengthy power interruptions has not changed in the past six months, the average duration of the longest outage increased to 13.7 minutes from 11.9 minutes. Thunderstorms are the most common cause of the longest outages (26 percent), followed by snow and ice (12 percent).
  • Alerts – Since the previous study, the number of customers nationally signing up for electronic alerts increased more than 50 percent for outage alerts and 66 percent for monthly bill alerts.
  • Corporate citizenship efforts – Utility providers continue to ramp up their efforts to be good corporate citizens. For example, 70 percent of business customers say their electric utility provider supports economic development in the local community; 30 percent have seen utility employees volunteering or working in their community; and 43 percent are aware of their utility’s efforts to improve its effect on the environment.

The rankings from the J.D. Power study are based on interviews with representatives of more than 20,500 U.S. businesses that spend an average of $200 or more a month on electricity.

Source: Public Power Daily, 1/17/17

Roseville customers get solar advice they can trust

Recognizing customer needs in the growing residential solar market, Roseville Electric Utility You are leaving WAPA.gov. has developed a program to help homeowners make sound decisions about installing solar systems and, in the process, is increasing customer satisfaction.Got solar questions? I've got answers. Connect with your Trusted Solar Advisor today at Roseville.ca.us/solar.

Solar installers are now marketing more aggressively to consumers who are definitely interested but want to be better informed before investing in a system. This creates an opening for utilities to become trusted energy advisors, said Alanya Schofield, a senior director at consulting firm E Source.

Schofield made her remarks at the American Public Power Association’s You are leaving WAPA.gov.(APPA) Public Power Forward summit in November and participated in a panel that included Roseville Electric Utility Director Michelle Bertolino. Public Power Forward is an APPA strategic initiative to help public power utilities prepare for a new era in electricity.

Seeing, meeting need
California passed a law in 2015 requiring utilities to get 50 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2030, increased from the previous goal of 33 percent by 2020. Many public power utilities in the state, however, have been proactively encouraging clean power and energy efficiency for years. Roseville Electric Utility’s Trusted Solar Advisor program is just the latest among many examples.

Roseville Electric Utility launched the program in April 2014, in response to the growing number of customers calling with questions about installing solar arrays. A promotional campaign and workshops followed to introduce the website to customers.

Educating first
The website provides a starting point for customers who are trying to figure out if solar is right for them. A solar calculator—the WattPlan created by Clean Power Research You are leaving WAPA.gov. —allows customers to make cost-benefit comparisons based on electricity use, generation, financing options and system size.

Visitors will also find frequently asked questions and information about rebates Roseville offers for solar installation. The Trusted Solar Advisor stresses the importance of doing efficiency upgrades first, and links to a DIY Home Energy Analyzer. You are leaving WAPA.gov.

Install when ready
Once a customer decides to go forward with a solar installation, the permitting process begins. Roseville customers can download the residential PV packet and find links to residential and business installation and interconnection forms.

Rather than maintain an approved contractor list, the utility provides helpful resources. The website includes links to Go Solar California, You are leaving WAPA.gov. sponsored by the California Energy Commission, and the Contractor State Licensing Board You are leaving WAPA.gov. so that customers can ensure their contractors have a valid license.

Staying neutral and staying current are the keys to gaining customer trust, noted Energy Program Technician David Dominguez. “We focus on making sure we give our customers the most relevant and up-to-date information,” he said. “That allows them to come to their own conclusions.”

Dominguez, who handles the utility’s retrofit solar interconnections, is the Trusted Solar Advisor and he was answering customers’ solar questions before Roseville created the program. Some customers just feel more comfortable talking to a representative, or they may still have questions after visiting the website, Dominguez acknowledged. “But now, with the website, when people call, they often have a much better idea of what they need to know.”

Source: Public Power Daily, 11/29/16

Western customers score high in customer satisfaction on annual study

When J.D. Power released its 2016 Electric Utility Business Customer Satisfaction Study You are leaving Western's site., the list of eight U.S. electric utilities included Western customers.

(Art by JD Power)

(Art by JD Power)

The 17th annual study ranked utilities based on customer satisfaction by size and region. Omaha Public Power District You are leaving Western's site. (OPPD) rated highest in the Midwest Midsize category. Salt River Project You are leaving Western's site. (SRP) in Arizona outperformed other utilities in the Large West category and Sacramento Municipal Utility District You are leaving Western's site. (SMUD) excelled in the West Midsize category. OPPD and SRP also ranked highest in last year’s study, the only two among the eight power providers to repeat their appearance on the list.

The other five electric utilities with highly satisfied business customers are:

  • Con Edison (East Large)
  • Met-Ed (East Midsize)
  • Ameren Missouri (Midwest Large)
  • Entergy Arkansas (South Large)
  • JEA (South Midsize)

Except for JEA, based in Jacksonville, Florida, these are all investor-owned utilities. “The public power utilities that have won the J.D. Power honors all exemplify this excellence in customer service,” said Sue Kelly, president and CEO of the American Public Power Association You are leaving Western's site. (APPA).

Focused on sustainability
OPPD works with more than 45,000 commercial and industrial (C&I) customers to help them improve energy efficiency and develop new renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar and biomass. In an interview with APPA for Public Power Daily, Jim Krist, OPPD manager of key account sales and service, pointed to a heightened interest among business customers in sustainability and driving their own energy choices. “The customer continues to change the way we think, operate and serve,” he said.

OPPD has 10 account executives dedicated to servicing the utility’s largest C&I customers. These customers receive annual energy reviews and work with the utility on economic development issues. OPPD account executives and electric service designers consult with business customers on demand-side management programs to help them reduce energy demand and receive rebates.

Communicating proactively
Even a brief power outage can cost a business thousands of dollars—or worse—so providing timely, accurate information about outages and quickly restoring electric service strongly affects a utility’s rating.

SRP has introduced online and mobile-friendly apps to provide detailed power outage information to businesses, and to send power outage notifications and weather alerts to customers via email and text. Every business customer who contacts SRP to report an outage receives a follow-up call by the next business day. The utility uses the opportunity to educate them on how to use online outage map and reporting tools.

This aggressive approach has paid off in significant increases in the satisfaction scores. “And our customers are telling us how much they appreciate this proactive outreach,” Jennie King, the utility’s director of strategic energy management, told APPA.

SRP’s robust portfolio of 20 energy-efficiency programs is another reason the utility has ranked first in the West by J.D. Power for three consecutive years. Program offerings range from low- to no-cost options for limited-income residential customers to comprehensive programs for industrial clients.

Expanding customer engagement
Taking the proactive approach for keeping in touch with business customers figures heavily in SMUD’s business customer service strategy, too. Account representatives serve as trusted energy advisors to their assigned business customers, matching various utility programs with the specific needs of their clients.   The Sacramento utility has 67,000 contract accounts representing the 32,000 businesses in its service territory. Last year, the utility decided to ramp up its outreach by putting a C&I customer strategic plan in place. A staff training program aimed at engaging more business customers was a key part of the plan.

Rob Lechner, manager of SMUD’s commercial and industrial account solutions team, said the five-person team now averages 150 face-to-face meetings per week. Team members spend much of their time in the field, visiting the customers and getting to know them. The customer representatives bring a list of questions to in-depth sit-down meetings that might last more than an hour, Lechner explained. “We want customers to be our partners,” he said, and the first step is to understand those customers.

Study benchmarks
J.D. Power, a marketing information services firm, annually measures satisfaction among business customers of 102 targeted U.S. electric utilities that serve more than 25,000 business customers. The survey rates for overall satisfaction, calculated on a 1,000-point scale across six factors (in order of importance): power quality and reliability; corporate citizenship; price; billing and payment; communications; and customer service.

The 2016 results show overall satisfaction among electric utility business customers to be at its highest level in eight years, driven mainly by communications, corporate citizenship and price. John Hazen, director of energy practice at J.D. Power, observed that communication and corporate citizenship are important to businesses. “Business customers like to see their provider giving back, whether it’s through charities and civic organizations or through economic development such as buying locally and creating jobs,” he said.

Western congratulates Omaha Public Power District, Sacramento Municipal Utility District and Salt River Project for recognizing what their business customers want and delivering it.

Source: APPA Public Power Daily, 2/9/16

Report: Energy apps could benefit customers, utilities

Energy Apps for Residential Customers, You are leaving Western's site. a new report from Navigant Research, suggests that utilities win when customers use apps to manage their energy consumption from their phones or tablets.

According to Navigant, customers who are more engaged and more in control of their energy use are more satisfied with their utilities and contribute to seamless grid efficiency.

Smart devices, such as meters, thermostats and appliances, now provide utilities with data about specific customer needs that can make that scenario happen. Sacramento Municipal Utility District You are leaving Western's site. (SMUD), for example, is among the power providers using this information to shape new customer programs and services. However, in an interview with American Public Power Association You are leaving Western's site. (APPA), SMUD president Arlen Orchard acknowledged that utilities now find themselves buried in a mountain of information, unclear on how to turn it into actionable steps for customers.

Navigant concluded that an app might be the best way for a utility to offer customers these programs and services. Drawing on case studies of utilities that created energy-management apps for consumers, the research showed generally positive customer experiences and possible energy savings of about 8 percent.

Utilities do not need to develop their own apps, either, to provide consumers with the smart technology they increasingly expect. The APPA article cited another report, Pathway to a 21st Century Electric Utility Utilities, You are leaving Western's site. which recommended utilities set up an energy app store or page on their websites. The study by the sustainability think tank Ceres noted that plenty of existing tools allow homeowners to operate demand response, load management and time-of-use products from their smartphone or other device.

An energy app store would not only introduce the products, but educate customers, highlight quality vendors and allow for customers to order products immediately with one click. Energy product vendors could offer customers the same service, but a utility-sponsored app store would have the advantage of providing a wider range of tools. Utilities are also in the best position to track how customers use the apps and their satisfaction levels, the study concluded.

Energy Services would like to know if your utility is offering apps to customers, or is considering including such tools in a customer program. Contact the Energy Service Bulletin editor with your story.

Source: APPA Public Power Daily, 11/12/15

Customer needs point way to utilities’ future

In a serendipitous case of cyber call and response, an energy industry blog recently posed a question that should be nagging all power providers, and another offered an answer that could give utilities hope.

At the Solar Electric Power Association’s Utility Solar Conference in May, Energy Efficiency Consultant Suzanne Shelton posted an essay titled “So why do I need my utility, exactly?”Redirecting to a non-government site Discussions among conference attendees about how best to build, integrate and price solar power seemed to leave the customer’s wishes entirely out of the equation. Coming on the heels of SolarCity/Tesla unveiling its Powerwall battery storage system, that approach struck Shelton as dangerously short-sighted. She conjectured that solar panel/battery storage combinations could become efficient and affordable enough in as little as five years to lead utility customers to ask themselves the question of her title.

Just two weeks later, “Listening for what matters to residential utility customers” Redirecting to a non-government site appeared in Intelligent Utility. The article focused on motivating customers to make energy-efficiency upgrades, but its underlying theme applies equally to the threat of grid defection. To get a customer to replace an inefficient furnace or stay connected to the grid, you must listen to their concerns and offer solutions that address their needs.

Doing business in brave new world
Broadcast television and landline phones tied to homes and offices were once life-changing services that quickly became viewed as necessities. For the most part, people were satisfied with those services and trusted the few—sometimes, sole—providers. Although utilities still enjoy that kind of marketplace (for now), consumers live in a world that offers myriad options and custom plans for other services, and they are starting to cast a skeptical eye toward their power providers.

A Shelton Group study found that 55 percent of consumers are less than satisfied with their utility, and would be open to other options. Tesla is only one of the private companies working on creating those options, and there are plenty of innovators in the energy-efficiency sector, too. It would take only a couple of breakthroughs to turn the much-discussed “utility death spiral” from a distant cloud on the horizon to a looming thunderhead.

The good news is that utilities still have time to get in front of the change curve. Both articles were optimistic about the new business opportunities awaiting utilities that are ready to look beyond the status quo of selling kilowatt-hours (kWh).

New model built on listening
Instead of seeing new technologies that save or generate energy as competition, utilities might consider how these systems meet customers’ specific needs. The IntelligentUtility article offers insight on how to talk to residential customers about saving energy, drawn from a poll by energy and sustainability marketing firm KSVRedirecting to a non-government site Researchers found that different demographics have different motives for making home improvements, a point Shelton frequently makes. Whether it is saving money, controlling home systems, freedom from time-of-use rates or something else, the utility of the future may be one that designs and markets customized equipment and service packages that speak to customers’ values.

All the points in the article are worth taking time to read, but Point 5, where researchers asked people where they get advice on home improvements, has particular resonance. Only 1 percent turned to their electric utility company, and this is where Shelton sees the greatest opportunity.

Despite sometimes bumpy relations with their power providers, people are still confident that when they flip the switch, the light will come on and when they open the refrigerator, the food will be cold. She suggests that by combining their established reputation for reliability with a new menu of customized products and programs, utilities will be able to keep customers even when leaving the grid becomes easier.

According to KSV, listening for what matters among utility customers is the best way to figure out how to connect homeowners with the right messages to get them to make efficiency upgrades. It is also the key to building the trust necessary to long-term customer loyalty, something no technology can duplicate or replace.

Source: Shelton Insights, 5/5/15; IntelligentUtility, 5/18/15

City of Palo Alto Utilities scores top marks for customer satisfaction

E Source Announces Top Utilities in Large Business Customer Satisfaction

In a recent nationwide survey conducted by E Source  You are leaving WAPA.gov. utility energy efficiency research group, utility large business customers gave top marks to the City of Palo Alto Utilities  You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CPAU) for customer satisfaction.CPAUthumbsUp

Among small and midsize utilities, the Western customer ranked number three for utility satisfaction, thanks to superior marks for its account management team. This is the first time in the study’s six-year history that E Source separated utilities into two categories based on size.

For the fourth year in a row, CPAU has earned a top three ranking for customer satisfaction with a utility. CPAU’s large business customers were particularly pleased with their account representatives’ effective communication skills and customer service.

Now in its sixth year, the annual benchmark survey polls utility customers throughout the nation to gauge general satisfaction for communication, affordable rates, reliability and safety. Participants are asked to identify the top priorities for outstanding customer service among utility key accounts and measure how close their utilities come to meeting those expectations. The results are based on survey responses from more than 1,000 large business customers of 25 North American utilities.

This year’s survey respondents identified reliability as the attribute they considered most important for utilities. E Source Market Research Manager Rachel Cooper observed that customers consistently rate reliable energy, low prices and emergency communications as the most important utility services. “Having a utility that’s trustworthy is also extremely important for these customers, particularly when it comes to supplying energy-efficiency advice,” she added. “Large business customers most commonly chose their utility when asked to indicate who they most trust to provide this type of advice.”

Western congratulates CPAU on its strong showing in the survey. The Northern California municipal utility frequently earns recognition for its energy-efficiency and renewable energy programs, but the greatest honor is hearing your own customers say you are the best.

Tension exists between good customer service, maintaining customer loyalty

The latest EcoPinion Consumer Survey from consulting firm DEFGRedirecting to a non-government site  points to a conflicted consumer landscape in terms of customer expectations. The Conflicted Consumer Landscape in the Utility Sector surveyed more 1,000 consumers to examine perceptions of customer service and the need for more options, including budget management tools, payment and pricing choices and new communications channels.

The findings indicate that the majority of customers feel that their utility is providing enough choices and the right amount of information. However, a subset of consumers strongly feel that they would choose a different energy provider if they could. There may be a disconnect between customer service and the overall customer experience or perception of the utility resulting in low or weak customer loyalty.

DEFG believes that utilities must address the majority of consumers as part of an overall customer strategy that results in deeper engagement, and specifically address the needs and concerns of the consumer subset to increase overall customer satisfaction. Read more.

You must register to download the report. Once you join DEFG’s mailing list, you will receive email updates on the company’s EcoPinion surveys, white papers and annual consumer choice scorecards.

DEFG, a management consulting firm specializing in energy, works with clients to increase residential and commercial customer engagement in a commodity marketplace.