Drivers of Small and Midsize Business Utility Customer Satisfaction
Published: June 22, 2011
Small and midsize business customers are elusive, diverse, and difficult to engage, but they do share common traits that, when addressed properly by utilities, can help ensure high satisfaction. To uncover best practices in serving this customer base, E Source hosted a web conference featuring the J.D. Power and Associates (JDPA) 2011 Electric Utility Business Customer Satisfaction Study and two utilities that scored highest in it. Andrew Heath of JDPA provided an overview of the findings; Joel Lewiston of Xcel Energy and Cathy Hansen of MidAmerican Energy presented insights on how their utilities scored so high. According to JDPA, the following six attributes have the greatest impact on customer satisfaction, in descending order.
Power restoration accuracy. When the utility takes longer to restore power than it promises, customers are, not surprisingly, less satisfied. There is a 153-point drop on the JDPA 1,000-point scale when the utility exceeds communicated estimated times of restoration (ETRs). We recommended that utilities frequently update ETRs with the most accurate information to help mitigate this potential cause of dissatisfaction.
First-contact resolution. Customers who had their issue resolved the first time they contacted the utility were more satisfied than those whose issues required two or more contacts, or that didn’t get resolved at all. The difference between one and two contacts is 98 points; the difference between one contact and three or four contacts is 246 points. Fortunately, 62 percent of respondents said their issue was resolved in one contact.
Frequency of communication. Businesses that hear from their utility at least three times in a six-month period are more satisfied—by up to 86 points—than those that don’t notice any communication. Unfortunately, 60 percent of the JDPA study respondents are in the latter category. Interestingly, communication via social media was most satisfying, followed by an in-person visit from a utility representative, a call from a utility representative, and an e-mail.
Awareness of energy-efficiency programs. Forty-four percent of business customers are “not at all familiar,” or “not very familiar,” with efficiency program offerings. Increasing awareness among business customers to at least “somewhat familiar” can raise satisfaction by 75 points.
Online accounts. The 46 percent of utility customers who have online accounts are more satisfied than those without accounts—by a difference of 58 points.
Electronic bill statements. The 39 percent of small and midsize business customers who receive electronic bill statements are more satisfied (by a difference of 48 points) than the majority of customers who only receive paper statements.
What’s Xcel Energy Doing Differently?
Everything! However, focusing on first-call resolution and finding solutions for business customer problems have been the keys to increasing satisfaction scores. To do this, Xcel invested in its business call center staff by providing additional training on listening skills and technical energy solutions. The process of understanding why customers are calling, translating what the customer says into what they are really asking, and then providing helpful solutions has proven successful for the utility. Accordingly, Xcel placed increased expectations on the representatives serving business customers to ensure the focus stays on the customer, not the transaction.
How Has MidAmerican Energy Risen to the Top?
Customer service has to be a core value of any company looking to achieve high satisfaction, and it has to be driven down from the top of the organization. This is the case for MidAmerican Energy. Senior management places a high priority on getting customer service right, especially when it comes to power quality and reliability. The utility works hard to reach out to customers who are inclined to be less satisfied, namely the agriculture, real estate, and rental industries that make up a large proportion of the utility’s customer base.
Want to learn more best practices for winning over your small and midsize business customers? E Source has many resources for utilities looking to improve their customer satisfaction scores. Contact us for more information.
About the Author
Stephanie Spalding focuses her research on energy-efficiency programs, social media, marketing, customer care and communications, and e-business topics. Earlier in her career, Stephanie was a marketing analyst at D&R International, specializing in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Star program for windows, doors, and skylights. She holds a BS in business administration with a concentration in marketing from the University of Delaware and is currently pursuing an MBA from the University of Colorado, Boulder.