By - Zach Freysinger

Customer Satisfaction and Profitability: No Longer Mutually Exclusive


 Customer Satisfaction and Profitability: No Longer Mutually Exclusive

By Zach Freysinger

The harsh winter across most of the United States forced many utility customers to increase their energy usage. This, in turn, led to elevated energy bills and decreased customer satisfaction. The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI) recently released a report to back up this claim. The report was conducted between October and February and the organization surveyed 9,000 utility customers and found a 2.7% decrease in satisfaction among gas and electric providers. This, however, should not come as a surprise as last year was the most expensive year ever for electricity bills.

Reliability was another important factor when it came to customer satisfaction. Utilities that were equipped to deal with various outages scored much higher on the ASCI report than those that were not. Customers like to know that when severe weather hits they do not have to worry about electricity disturbances. David VanAmburg, ACSI Managing Director, said in regards to the best scoring and worst scoring utilities “Ultimately, what separates the best from the worst, so to speak, really comes down to power reliability.”

With electric bills increasing and the unpredictability of weather, what can utilities do to halt the downward skid in customer satisfaction? The obvious answer is to invest in grid reliability. As David VanAmburg expressed, companies that invested in updating their power grids were near the top in the ACSI index. Not all outages are avoidable but utilities that can quickly restore power see more positive customer feedback.

Improving gird reliability is not the only step utilities can take to improve their relationships with customers. Customer service and communication are two important factors that shape customer satisfaction. Regarding utilities, VanAmburg pointed out, “They can’t control the weather and they can’t control rates. But one thing they do have in their control is customer service, and particularly the flow of information”. Companies with higher ASCI scores invested in new technologies to reach customers. These technologies include things such as social media, smart phone apps and company websites. Utilities are able to notify customers of a high bill through a smart phone app or provide them with to the minute updates through sites like Twitter during a power outage. This constant engagement keeps customers in the loop and reflects positively on customer satisfaction.

One other way utilities can engage customers is through education. With energy bills ever on the rise teaching consumers energy efficiency can be seen as good will. VanAmburg noted, “There’s a big initiative now to have the utilities out there teaching how we can use less energy, how to be more efficient and cut down on usage. And customers are looking at that favorably.” This creates a win-win situation for both power providers and customers. Consumers are cutting their energy usage and utilities are not losing any profits due to the increasing energy rates. Essentially it is a wash for both parties, but the perceived stewardship created by utilities creates value, in the form of better customer service, for customers.

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