Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. Accordingly, a 'genius' is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework.
- Thomas Edison
Customer Satisfaction is Alive and Well in the Utility Industry


This last week I was reading the USA Today and noticed a customer satisfaction article focused on the airline industry. According to the article, “as an industry, airlines received the fourth-worst score in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) rankings of customer satisfaction. Only pay TV, social media companies and Internet service providers rank lower. Even wireless carriers and car dealers rank higher. That may not be an indictment of the industry, but it does indicate a lot of room for improvement.” I wondered where the ACSI had the utility industry ranked, so I visited their website. Apparently utilities rank better than the airlines industry as well. They also rank higher than cellular and landline telephones, health insurance, Internet news/information, and subscription television service (cable or satellite). Being so close to an industry can sometimes skew one to be more critical of that industry. I myself am guilty of being critical from time to time of the very industry I am a part of. However, when compared to other industries, we don’t look so bad after all.


I started to reflect on why the utility industry is not so bad on customer satisfaction when compared to other industries. The answer can be found at the annual AGA-EEI Customer Service Conference held in San Francisco, CA just last week. Attended by 400 registrants representing the gas and electric utility industries (particularly the investor-owned utilities), the key components of the conference included the call/contact center, credit & collection, billing and payment processing, meter reading, field service, revenue protection, and low income/at-risk customers.   


Allow me to give a summary of a few of the presentations given in San Francisco that offers a glimpse of why utilities can be seen as leaders in customer service. When focused on one of the key touch points for consumers, the call center, Central Hudson Gas & Electric presented on unifying customer communications for outages. Central Hudson has spent the last few years building multiple communication channels and making some of them interactive for consumers when it comes to outages. The channels they utilize include the call center, IVR, website, mobile app, e-mail, and SMS text. The SMS text functionality allows consumers to send various commands in to report outages and check the outage status. Many analysts covering the industry have reported that outages and outage communications are key in customer satisfaction and as such, Central Hudson is receiving top rankings on customer satisfaction.


Although the AGA/EEI conference focuses on investor-owned utilities, a cooperative utility made an interesting presentation on outage communications. South Central Power Company partnered with Twenty First Century Communications to create outbound message campaigns that utilize phone, e-mail, SMS text, Twitter, and Facebook. The outbound messaging also targets meter change-outs, tree trimming, and planned outages in addition to unplanned outages. Customer satisfaction with the outbound messaging was 89% or greater for all notification types. In short, South Central Power experienced significantly greater customer satisfaction when providing proactive communications for planned and unplanned events.


Gulf Power, part of the Southern Company, presented on its partnership with iFactor on outage communications. Again, providing a number of communication channels was key to success. Gulf Power utilizes an outage map at, the call center, a mobile outage app available at the Apple Store and GooglePlay, e-mail, and SMS Text. Gulf Power’s implementation team included resources from marketing, customer service, customer operations, public affairs, corporate communications, district management, and distribution operations.  Including these departments mitigated the risks involved with the program rollout.


PPL Electric Utilities partnered with JD Power to present on proactive outbound outage communications. PPL started with what it called the new age of “Meteorological Mayhem,” or more specifically, tornadoes in May 2011, hurricane/tropical storms in August/September 2011, “snow-tober” in October 2011, and Superstorm Sandy in October 2012. Outbound messaging at PPL was done via e-mail, voice, and SMS text. PPL experienced an ice storm in February of this year that affected 70,000 customers and sent 67,422 total messages for (7,927 e-mail, 25,664 voice, and 33,831 SMS text). As a result, customer satisfaction with overall communication during outages has increased from 64% in May of 2011 to 79% for Superstorm Sandy in October 2012, to 85% for the ice storm in February of 2014.       


With the weather becoming more of a factor in our industry, as PPL would call “Meteorological Mayhem,” focusing customer service not only on operational excellence (reducing outages and outage durations), but also proactively communicating with customers via a variety of channels, will increase customer satisfaction. I have only touched on one area of the AGA/EEI Customer Service conference held last week in San Francisco and therefore have not done it justice, but compared to other industries, customer satisfaction is alive and well in the utility industry.

Jon Brock is President of utility and energy advisor Desert Sky Group, LLC.  He can be reached at

Add a Comment

(Enter the numbers shown in the above image)