Nothing strikes fear into the heart of a utility customer experience professional quite like going into a rate case. It’s widely assumed in the industry that rate cases attract negative media attention, which in turn drives lower levels of customer satisfaction and trust. There are, however, both reasons for optimism and tried-and-true approaches that utilities can take to turn rate cases into an opportunity to enhance customer relationships.
Customer trust that their utility sets rates that are reasonable are at a three-year high, with 70% of customers nationally saying that they somewhat or completely agree with this statement.
Trust levels do vary by region and are highest in the South and lowest in the West. However, they span a remarkably narrow range of less than a fifth of a point on a 0-to-10-point scale.
Additionally, nearly two-thirds of customers say that if their utility used money from a rate increase to provide things that they value, they would support at least some level of increase.
The question, then, is “what kinds of things do customers value when thinking about rate increases?” The single biggest compelling benefit is support for low income families, indicating that customers understand how necessary energy is and that “universal service” means being able to provide energy for those with fewer means. Customers also want to see more – and more effective – programs that help them lower their individual energy use and investment by their utility in improving its environmental profile.
In 2019, Georgia Power went through a rate case and approached it as an opportunity to enhance their relationship with customers. By the first quarter of 2020, nearly a quarter of Georgia Power’s customers said they had heard about a rate increase. At the same time, customers’ awareness of Georgia Power’s low income programs had climbed significantly, from 29% in early 2019 to 38% in early 2020. Additionally, one-in-ten customers, up significantly from the year before, agreed with the statement that “rate increases have helped them serve customers better.”
The result was that customers who had heard about Georgia Power’s rate increase had levels of Brand Trust and Service Satisfaction on par with customers who hadn’t heard about a rate increase. Georgia Power also continued its multi-year streak of being recognized as a Most Trusted Brand and a Customer Champion based on high scoring compared to industry peers in 2019.
At Escalent, we have the data and insight to help you successfully navigate your next rate case. Reach out to me if you’d like to discuss how we can help your utility “win” at your next rate case.