With fewer customers shopping for electricity, retail electric utilities need to shift their focus to other areas of the customer experience, such as ease of enrollment and frequent communications, to differentiate their brand and meet evolving customer expectations, according to the J.D. Power 2015 Retail Electric Provider Residential Customer Satisfaction Study.
The study, now in its third year of measuring retail electric providers in competitive markets, examines satisfaction among residential customers of 86 ranked retail electric providers in nine states across five key factors: price; communications; corporate citizenship; enrollment/renewal; and customer service. An additional factor, billing and payment, is measured in Texas. Satisfaction is calculated in a 1,000-point scale.
Overall satisfaction with retail electric providers in Texas is 715, an increase of 9 points from 706 in 2014. Satisfaction in the other eight states included in the study is 632, an improvement of 6 points from 626 in 2014. While Texas ranks highest overall, Pennsylvania (664) ranks highest among the other eight states.
“Energy providers are challenged by a rapidly evolving energy marketplace and fewer customers are shopping for an alternative electricity supplier,” said Jeff Conklin, senior director of the energy practice at J.D. Power. “In this environment, it is even more vital to differentiate the customer experience on something other than price to increase retention and improve market share.”
With fewer customers shopping for electricity, it is critical for providers to focus on understanding and addressing evolving customer expectations in such areas as enrollment and communication in order to set themselves apart. Among retail electric customers, 59 percent prefer enrolling online, yet only 37 percent of customers who selected a new provider within the past 12 months enrolled online via the provider website or a retail provider choice site. To satisfy prospective customers, providers need to ensure their website is easy to navigate, informative and makes it easy to complete the sign-up process the first time.
Initiating follow-up communications—e.g., welcome kit, price/services offered and contract terms—with new customers is another opportunity for retail providers to stand out as well as to increase satisfaction. Among newly enrolled customers, satisfaction is significantly higher when providers follow up vs. when they do not (740 vs. 597, respectively). Fewer newly enrolled customers receive follow-up contact from their provider in 2015 than in 2014 (60 percent vs. 65 percent, respectively).
· Providing an outstanding customer experience can generate high levels of advocacy and retention. The study finds that 57 percent of highly satisfied retail customers (overall satisfaction scores of 900 or higher) say they “definitely will” renew their contract, and 62 percent say they “definitely will” recommend their retail electric provider. In contrast, only 21 percent of dissatisfied customers (scores of 550 or less) say they “definitely will” renew and only 3 percent say they “definitely will” recommend.
· Overall, only 23 percent of customers plan to switch from their local electric distribution company in the next three months. The three most frequently cited reasons customers avoid switching to a retail electric provider include the bill savings are not big enough to switch (44 percent); they are satisfied with the level of service they presently get from their local utility (37 percent); and they are concerned about getting worse service if they were to switch (26 percent). Of the respondents who said bill savings aren’t big enough to switch, more than one-fourth (28 percent) said they would consider switching if they know they would save up to $20 a month.
Retail electric provider study rankings by state are:
Connecticut: Ambit Energy ranks highest in Connecticut with a score of 689 and performs particularly well in the price and enrollment/renewal factors. Connecticut Gas & Electric (657) and ConEdison Solutions (645) follow Ambit Energy in the rankings, performing above the Connecticut average (623).
Illinois: AEP Energy ranks highest in Illinois with a score of 724, performing particularly well in the price, enrollment/renewal and communications factors. Following AEP Energy in the rankings are Liberty Power (718) and Nordic Energy (709), performing above the Illinois average (631).
Maryland: Maryland is not ranked this year due to insufficient sample.
Massachusetts: Viridian Energy ranks highest in Massachusetts with a score of 682 and performs particularly well in the customer service factor. Massachusetts Gas & Electric (637) and Direct Energy (626) follow in the rankings, performing above the Massachusetts average (625).
New Jersey: New Jersey Gas & Electric ranks highest in New Jersey with a score of 657 and performs particularly well in the communications factor. Ambit Energy (656) and North American Power (655) follow in the rankings, performing above the New Jersey average (645).
New York: Green Mountain Energy ranks highest in New York with a score of 684 and performs particularly well in the communications, corporate citizenship and customer service factors. Agway Energy (665) and NOCO Electric (650) follow Green Mountain Energy in the rankings, performing above the New York average (621).
Ohio: IGS Energy ranks highest in Ohio with a score of 642 and performs particularly well in the price and customer service factors. Direct Energy (637) ranks second, followed by DPL Energy Resources and DP&L Energy (629), performing above the Ohio average (617).
Pennsylvania: ConEdison Solutions ranks highest in Pennsylvania with a score of 698 and performs particularly well in the price factor. Ambit Energy (695) and AEP Energy (688) follow ConEdison Solutions in the rankings, performing above the Pennsylvania average (664).
Texas: Champion Energy Services ranks highest in Texas with a score of 766 and performs particularly well in the billing & payment and communications factors. Green Mountain Energy (754) and Bounce Energy (752) follow Champion Energy Services in the rankings, performing above the Texas average (715).
The 2015 Retail Electric Provider Residential Customer Satisfaction Study is based on responses from 21,744 electric retail residential customers of the 86 ranked retail electric providers in nine states regarding their experiences with their retail electric provider. Online interviews were conducted August 2014 through June 2015.