Utilities Deploy an Impactful Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

July 21, 2020

Utilities acted swiftly as the COVID-19 virus began to grip the nation, deploying programs, communications and outreach that customers greatly appreciated and needed. In fact, consumers rate their utility’s response to COVID-19 a very high 7.20 (on a 10-point-maximum scale). That rating jumped another point (8.19) among customers who have been furloughed or laid off during the pandemic when they learn about the actions their utility was taking to support them. These and other findings are from the Cogent Syndicated Utility Response to COVID-19 Pandemic report from Escalent, a top human behavior and analytics firm.

The report is based on surveys of 16,815 residential customers of 140 utilities and 7,278 business customers of 77 utilities and explores the impact and effectiveness of the utility industry’s response to the global crisis.

“Our research shows that utilities score measurably better when customers are aware of how utilities can help them with the impact of COVID-19,” said Chris Oberle, senior vice president at Escalent. “The industry’s great response to the pandemic helped it achieve the highest level of customer trust and advocacy ever measured.”

Other selected highlights from the report include:

  • 105 of the 140 utilities surveyed have significantly increased Brand Trust Index scoring when customers are aware of how the utility supported them during the pandemic.
  • Two utilities (TECO Peoples Gas and NIPSCO) have a COVID-19 response rating of over 8.0.
  • One in five customers is aware of utility COVID-19 relief efforts.
  • One in seven customers reports making a payment arrangement with their utility.
  • Customers most desire their utility to have no outages during COVID-19.
  • Half of customers who are unable to pay their utility bill are also likely to adopt a new billing option.
  • Few customers (5%) report changing the way they paid their utility bill in Q2 2020.
  • Gen Zers (ages 18–24) and Late Boomers (ages 55–64) are less happy with COVID-19 responses, due to low awareness of utility efforts.
  • One in ten low-income customers reports making a payment arrangement in Q2 2020 and rates his or her utility response to COVID-19 higher when he or she did so.

“The utility industry had no road map for managing the customer experience during a pandemic, but it engaged in efforts it believed would provide the most solace for its customers and employees,” continued Oberle. “This new report explores the impact of these actions and summarizes best practices to prepare for and react to any potential crises in the future.”

About Utility Response to COVID-19 Pandemic

Escalent conducted surveys among 16,815 residential electric, natural gas and combination utility customers of the 140 largest US utility companies (based on residential customer counts) and 7,278  business electric, natural gas and combination utility customers of the 77 largest US utility companies (based on business customer counts). For residential customers, the sample design uses a combination of quotas and weighting based on US census data to ensure a demographically balanced sample of each evaluated utility’s customers based on age, gender, income, race and ethnicity. Utilities within the same region and of the same type (e.g., electric-only providers) are given equal weight to balance the influence of each utility’s customers on survey results. Escalent will supply the exact wording of any survey question upon request.


Click below for more information on the full report.

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