Energy market researchers wage uphill battle, study finds

NEW YORK, Feb. 13, 2002 — Is market research preparing the way for energy companies to meet customer needs in a restructured environment where customers will have a choice of energy suppliers? A survey of market research professionals in energy companies suggests the answer is no.

According to a majority of market researchers surveyed, market research is valued less in the energy industry than other industries and fails to receive the respect it deserves in their company. Obstacles to market research include the absence of top level-buy-in to market research and the existence of “old line, regulated attitudes.”

Although energy industry deregulation has not yet arrived in most states, the survey reveals that it has already had a profound influence on market research. Internal reorganizations, rethinking of business plans and strategy, expectations for quicker research results, and changes in staffing levels are some of the impacts on market research associated with restructuring, according to survey respondents.

The demands associated with restructuring have taken a toll on market researchers themselves. Two-thirds of respondents say their market research department is understaffed and 60 percent feel they are overworked. Only 37 percent of respondents believe they have sufficient time to get everything done.

These are some findings from a national survey of energy market research professionals conducted by Schulman, Ronca, and Bucuvalas, Inc., a market research organization specializing in business and residential energy research.

“The survey results indicate that many market researchers in the energy industry face tremendous challenges,” explained Carla Jackson, vice president and national director of energy research at SRBI and a 17-year veteran of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). “While industry restructuring has increased interest in market research at many companies, staffing and resource issues have also impacted the ability of market research departments to meet the demands upon them.”

Amidst the negative trends revealed by the survey, there is also some cause for optimism. A majority of market research professionals working in the energy industry report that appreciation for market research has increased among senior management in the past five years. On balance, more, rather than less resources, are allocated to market research in these companies compared to five years ago. And twice as many market researchers in the energy field see growth, compared with retrenchment, in utility market research in the next three years.

Other findings of the study include:
— One-half of respondents have encountered obstacles in conducting market research within the past year, including the lack of financial resources. Less than one-half of respondents are optimistic that these obstacles can be overcome.
— Two out of three market researchers indicate that their department has been involved in an internal re-organization within the past three years. Among these respondents, 61 percent have experienced more than one reorganization.
— More than one-half of respondents are distracted from their primary function by other issues.
— Approximately 50 percent of respondents are concerned about job stability and energy-industry mergers.

The survey was conducted anonymously by mail in fall 2001. Thirty-two percent of the 295 energy market researchers surveyed returned questionnaires. SRBI will be repeating the survey in 2002 to identify industry trends.

About SRBI

Schulman, Ronca, & Bucuvalas, Inc. is a full-service global strategic market and opinion research firm. Founded in 1981, SRBI specializes in health care, banking and finance, telecommunications, media, energy, transportation, customer satisfaction, automotive, insurance, public policy, and opinion surveys. SRBI maintains offices in New York City, metro Washington, DC, Fort Myers, FL, West Long Branch, NJ and Chattanooga, TN. The firm employs 105 full-time staffers and 550 field staff. Through its affiliation with Global Market Research, an international consortium, the firm has research partners in 30 countries. Additional information can be found at http://www.srbi.com.


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