All-Points Bulletin: Toxic Terminology on the Loose at Utilities
Sergeant Rickard, here. I’m the E Source Utility Customer Experience Cop (or ESUCEC for short). Self‑designated, of course. Sometimes I can’t believe it’s not a paid position with health benes and 10 weeks paid vacation. It’s a hard job, you know? But I digress. As the ESUCEC, I’d like to bring up something with you today that is of the utmost importance to the longevity of the utility industry. There are a couple of terms that, despite their absolutely antiquated nature, continue to percolate in the energy industry culture. These almost-cruel terms are often used when referring to the folks who pay their hard-earned monies to utilities. I shudder (insert Edgar Allen Poe shudder) to even think about typing them here. These terms are “ratepayers” and “meters.” Oh, the horror!
Calling people ratepayers or meters further reinforces the fact that people served by regulated utilities don’t have a choice when it comes to their energy needs. When customers don’t have a choice about using a product or service, they can become easily dissatisfied. For utilities, dissatisfied customers become expensive to serve because unhappy customers contact the utility more often and on the most expensive contact channel—speaking to a live agent in the contact center. For this reason alone, it makes good business sense to weed those terms out of your utility lexicon and start referring to them as customers.
To avoid singling out utilities, I’ve even heard these terms spoken in the hallowed halls of E Source. It was a dark day when an E Sourcer referred to a utility customer as a ratepayer. I’ll never forget it, because it was that day I was self-appointed to patrol this prehistoric way of thinking. By the power vested in me as supreme ESUCEC overlord, I hereby proclaim that referring to utility customers as ratepayers or meters is now a criminal offense punishable by … punishable by … hmmm. I’ll think of something. Maybe free electricity and gas for life? Until then, my utility friends, I’ll just issue a warning for any infractions. But from now on, let’s keep it real, remembering that we need to earn our customers’ respect, business, trust, and loyalty.