The wants and needs of business customers are always shifting, and when it comes to delivering and managing energy, priorities can evolve rapidly. That’s why every spring, the E Source account management and market research teams gear up to conduct the Business Customer Satisfaction: Gap and Priority Benchmark studies—a way for utilities to listen to the voice of the customer and get a deeper understanding of their small, midsize, and large business customers.

In 2018, the studies uncovered evidence of a change in business customer priorities across a variety of attributes, and found that priorities can vary greatly for businesses of different sizes and in different industries. As a whole, we found that small and midsized business (SMB) customers have noticeably wider gaps than large business customers for the majority of utility attributes (figure 1).

Figure 1: Ranking utility performance across attributes

Survey respondents rate how important these attributes are to them and then rate the utility's performance on the same attributes. The gaps (S1_2 minus S1_1) show how far off the utility's performance is from the customer's expectations—larger gaps show a greater disparity in performance versus expectations.
Graph showing how small, midsize, and large business customers rank utility performance across a range of attributes.

In addition to utility-level feedback, the study asks business customers to rate the performance of their account representatives on how effective they are at communicating and understanding their needs. We also asked about their interest in participating in or purchasing a variety of utility programs, products, and services.

An immense amount of data is collected and analyzed each year to paint a picture of the current state of utility business customer satisfaction, and we’ve compiled six high-level insights to help you chart a path to success. Use these as a starting point for optimizing your account management and key account departments and consider participating in the 2019 edition of the studies to find out exactly what you should be doing to increase satisfaction in your territory.

Six insights from the 2018 Gap and Priority Benchmarks

1. Utilities perform well on reliably delivering energy, but it probably comes as no surprise that business customers want utilities to focus on keeping prices down. This is more of a pain point for SMB customers than it is for large, so we recommend looking at your selection of rates and programs you’re currently offering to smaller customers to see if they can be improved.
The ability to provide reliable energy is rated the most important and highest-performing utility attribute by key accounts, but working to keep energy prices down is seen as an opportunity for improvement.
2. The data is clear: utilities need to get better at communicating with businesses during energy emergencies such as outages and disruptions. Broken down by sector, the lodging industry showed substantially greater dissatisfaction with outage communications than other industries.
On the account rep side, trustworthiness is rated the most important attribute by key accounts, with professional and courteous communication rated as the highest-performing attribute. The largest performance gap for account managers is effective energy-emergency communication.
3. In an age where people rely heavily on email, chat, or phone calls to communicate, it can be easy to forget about the importance of face-to-face customer interactions to help build rapport and trust. Increase satisfaction by maintaining or increasing the frequency of your in-person visits to customers in your territory.
Meeting customer expectations for the desired number of in-person visits increases customer satisfaction with account representatives.
4. While email usually suffices for regular communication, there’s no guarantee that someone will see an email during an unplanned energy emergency. Make sure that account reps are connecting with business customers via phone call or text message to ensure they’re getting timely updates.
Email is fine for regular and planned contacts, but large business customers prefer personal phone calls during unplanned outages, and some even prefer texts.
5. Business customers want to know that you’re working hard to deliver energy in the cheapest and cleanest way possible. Offering energy efficiency programs to your business customers increases overall satisfaction while simultaneously yielding benefits to the utility, the grid, and the environment.
Large businesses that participate in energy-efficiency programs rate their utility and account manager higher on satisfaction and value than nonparticipants.
6. You can boost program participation, generate leads for pilot programs, assess electrification demand, and explore new opportunities for revenue generation by ensuring that your offerings align with the needs of the customer. While power monitoring is of most interest to large customers, SMB customers are more interested in energy-management consulting.
Large businesses that participate in energy-efficiency programs rate their utility and account manager higher on satisfaction and value than nonparticipants.

Learn more and participate

This year, we’re taking our analysis a step further by breaking down the results by industry to give you a better understanding of what makes each sector unique and where customers may be feeling underserved. Members of the E Source Account Management Service can learn more by watching the Sector-Specific Customer Satisfaction Scores: From the 2018 E Source Gap and Priority Benchmarks web conference recording from March 28, 2019.

If you’d like to get in-depth, personalized results and individual responses from customers in your territory, we invite you to participate in the 2019 edition of the studies. Participation in the study is included for members of the E Source Account Management Service, but any utility can participate. Contact us to learn more.

Contributing Authors

Manager, Account Management Services

Devin Fink works closely with our members to help them maximize their business customer relationships. He conducts member training and onboarding,...

Lead Analyst, Market Research Services

Daniel Doutre brings more than 25 years of experience defining, organizing, and analyzing market research data to the E Source team. From semiannual...