NORTH SALEM, NY, March 13, 2002 — While utilities across the U.S. received generally satisfactory performance scores for 2001 from their residential customers, California consumers register significantly lower levels of satisfaction and support for their energy suppliers, according to a new independent national survey.
Across the board, California consumers rated service from their investor-owned utilities much lower than suppliers in neighboring states, and significantly below the national norms established in the survey. California energy providers received some of their lowest marks in such key areas as reliability, trust, honesty, and loyalty.
A separate survey of California residents performed during the same time frame confirms that customers of the state’s municipal utilities registered much higher levels of satisfaction than the national norms. The low levels of satisfaction in California are confined to the state’s investor-owned utilities, according to the two surveys.
Overall, the national data indicate that the residential customers in the Southern states hold the most positive perceptions of their electric providers–even though they also pay the highest rates in the nation.
In a major shift of regional attitudes, the survey indicates that consumers in the Western states have supplanted the Northeast as the most critical part of the country. For example, value ratings from consumers in the Western states dropped nearly a full point from the year-end 2000 level, while ratings for price, performance and key dimensions of service all declined as well.
In another contradictory finding, customers of rural electric co-operatives, who pay some of the highest electric bills in the U.S and experienced a higher-than-normal number of outages in 2001, still give their systems high marks for value. Few co-op consumers consider their electricity rates to be high, according to the survey.
These results are part of the year-end 2001 national residential customer assessment conducted by RKS Research & Consulting, a nationwide market research and public opinion polling firm based in North Salem, NY. RKS completed in-depth interviews with 830 heads of households at the end of October, 2001, plus a separate survey of 400 affluent consumers for comparative purposes.
“The responses from California tell us that these customers have lost trust in the three investor-owned utilities,” said David J. Reichman, RKS president. “These consumers no longer have confidence in these providers’ honesty or ability to meet their expectations. The fact that these customers see their utilities as less dependable should be a serious concern as the state continues to deal with its energy supply and policy issues.”
High-income households, examined in depth for the first time this year, are also less satisfied and more critical, according to the RKS survey. For example, affluent customers lag the national norms in such key performance areas as system reliability, trust, and value. And these households give fewer “good” to “excellent” scores on the RKS 0-10 satisfaction scale than the overall sample.
Analysis of the RKS data indicates that perceptions and customer attitudes play an important role in assessing supplier performance. Despite their high rates, for instance, customers in the South and co-op members believe their suppliers work to keep costs low, according to the survey. Indeed, a third of the consumers in the South and four in 10 co-op members say they “always get their money’s worth” from their energy provider.
“The important lesson from these findings relates to relationships and communications,” Reichman said. “Utilities that rate highly for communicating with and really listening to their customers received high performance scores–despite higher prices and lower reliability.”
Now in its 28th year, RKS Research & Consulting designs and conducts both syndicated and customized marketing research and public opinion polling service for energy and natural resource clients and their major associations. RKS operates from headquarters in North Salem, NY, plus field offices in New Jersey, Florida, Ohio and California. More information is available on its website, www.rksresearch.com.