J.D. Power Study: Satisfaction Rising Among Business Ratepayers

Business customers’ satisfaction with their electric utilities is up substantially year over year – at 704 in 2016 as compared to 677 in 2015 – with “price satisfaction” a significant factor, according to the J.D. Power 2016 Electric Utility Business Customer Satisfaction Study released on January 13.

Headquartered in Costa Mesa, California, J.D. Power calls itself a global marketing information services company. The study, now in its 17th year, measures satisfaction among business customers of 102 targeted U.S. electric utilities, each of which serves more than 25,000 business customers. In aggregate, these utilities provide retail electricity to more than 12 million customers.

Overall satisfaction was examined across six factors (listed in order of importance) in order to derive the research results, with customer rates coming in third:

  1. Power quality and reliability;
  2. Corporate citizenship;
  3. Price;
  4. Billing and payment;
  5. Communications; and
  6. Customer service.

Satisfaction has been calculated on a 1,000-point scale. Overall satisfaction among electric utility business customers is now at its highest level in eight years, based on the research findings. The numbers jumped overall to 704 this year, driven “by a sharp year-over-year rise in satisfaction with communications (+55 points), corporate citizenship (+45) and price (+43),” J.D. Power said.

“Communication and corporate citizenship are important to businesses,” said John Hazen, director of the Energy Practice at J.D. Power. “Price is important to business customers, but not as critical as it is to residential customers.”

Within each of the four geographic regions included in the study, utility providers were classified into one of two segments: large (serving 85,000 or more business customers) and midsize (serving between 25,000 and 84,999 business customers).

Among the eight providers that rank highest in their respective regions, only two—Omaha Public Power District in the Midwest region’s midsize utility segment and SRP (Salt River Project) in the West region’s large utility segment—also ranked highest in 2015.

“There are 53 ranked providers with an overall satisfaction score above 700 this year,” said Hazen, who noted that in 2014 only four providers achieved scores of 700 or higher. “This clearly demonstrates that when providers make an investment in customer satisfaction and put in the effort, they can improve their customers’ experiences.”

The following utilities rank highest in business customer satisfaction in their respective regions:

  • East Large: Con Edison
  • East Midsize: Met-Ed
  • Midwest Large: Ameren Missouri
  • Midwest Midsize: Omaha Public Power District
  • South Large: Entergy Arkansas
  • South Midsize: JEA
  • West Large: SRP
  • West Midsize: SMUD

One of the key secrets to their success: Overall satisfaction among businesses with an assigned account manager at their utility was more than 100 points higher than among those that do not have an account manager.

In addition, billing and payment satisfaction averaged 708 among the 37 percent of businesses that indicated they do not receive billing and payment alerts from their utility provider. Satisfaction increased to 776 among respondents who noted that their providers send alerts when a bill is due or overdue – and leaped to 798 when participants in the poll had an energy provider that routinely sends customers confirmation that their payment was received.

On the negative side, regardless of the contact channel, twice as many business customers said that they contact their electric utility provider twice as often as residential customers, yet their rate of problem resolution is lower than that enjoyed by homeowners. For example, 48 percent of business customers contacted their provider in the past year via telephone, compared with 23 percent of residential customers; however, the problem resolution rate over the phone for commercial and industrial customers was only 67 percent, as compared with 71 percent among residential customers.

Another buzz kill factor: When customers have not been made aware of any of their provider’s offerings, satisfaction plummets to 603.

The 2016 Electric Utility Business Customer Satisfaction Study is based on responses from more 21,000 online interviews with business customers who spend at least $200 monthly on electricity. The study was fielded from March through June 2015 and July through November 2015.

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