Study: Consumer trust in electric utilities sinks

About a quarter of electric consumers trust their power utilities, according to an Accenture study of more than 11,000 customers in 21 countries.

Accenture’s research shows that just 24 percent of consumers trust their utility to inform them of actions they can take to optimize energy consumption – a decrease of nine percentage points from 2012. This is the lowest level of trust since the multi-year global research program was launched four years ago. Furthermore, customer satisfaction has drifted lower globally, falling from 59 percent to 47 percent over the past year.

Across both regulated and competitive energy markets, consumers are ready to turn to alternative providers for energy and energy-related products and services. If given the choice, 73 percent of the consumers surveyed said they would consider alternative providers for purchasing electricity and alternative energy-related products and services.

“In the evolving energy marketplace, many utilities are at an inflection point at which they should redefine their role in consumers’ lives and refocus on building a base of trust,” said Greg Guthridge, Accenture Energy Consumer Services managing director. “The first step is making interactions simple, in particular getting the basics right the first time. Each touch point with the consumer is critical – whether it involves mobile or digital options for straightforward transactions, or higher-touch interactions to resolve issues.”

Despite the fact that many utilities have increased spending on consumer-centric programs, such as online self-service, this has yet to translate directly into improved trust or satisfaction. Storms, challenges with service reliability and price volatility have all contributed to decreasing customer trust and satisfaction. However, Accenture’s research shows that there is a growing gap between customer expectations and the energy experience they receive from their providers today.

The research shows that delivering the basics of the customer experience is key to building consumer trust. The vast majority of consumers surveyed said that consistently getting the bill correct (92 percent), receiving reliable energy delivery (91 percent) and getting clear and easy-to-understand pricing information (91 percent) are the factors that matter most in building their trust with energy providers.

However, the survey results also show that there are significant gaps between consumers’ expectations and their utilities’ performance. For example, while 91 percent of consumers said that clear and easy-to-understand pricing information is important, only 69 percent would rate their providers’ performance in that area as good or excellent — a gap of 22 percent.

“Utilities need to consider radically rethinking their customer satisfaction investments with a targeted approach to simplifying the consumer energy experience, addressing the concerns of dissatisfied consumers and closing the expectation gap,” Guthridge said.

Responses from survey participants indicate that utilities have several opportunities to better engage with their customers, including:

Extending the mobile experience: The increased use of mobile devices is driving the demand for mobile energy experiences with personalized information. Thirty-eight percent of consumers say they would like to receive notifications about their energy usage on their mobile device. And 32 percent say they would like to have the ability to remotely control their home heating, cooling and appliances using their mobile devices.

Tackling consumer costs: Reducing the household energy bill is a consumer priority. More than three-quarters (76 percent) of survey respondents expect detailed online access to their energy usage information and half (50 percent) want online personalized tips on actions they can take to reduce their energy bill.

Acting as an energy advisor: Eighty-one percent of consumers surveyed would be more interested in purchasing energy-related products and/or services if their utility were to provide them information on how to save on their energy bill.

Delivering a smarter experience: The vast majority of respondents – 87 percent  – said that once their utility supplies them with a smart meter, they expect the company to provide additional energy-related products or services, including personalized advice on actions they can take to reduce their bill, information on new product and service offerings, bill notifications and home-energy management solutions. Similarly, if their utility were to provide them with a variable rate plan option in which the price of energy changes throughout the day, 92 percent of consumers surveyed said they would expect the utility to offer new features to help them manage their bill.

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