Two years ago, Greentech Media asked if utilities could rebuild trust with customers. According to a recent study by Accenture, it appears that it hasn't happened yet.
Less than one-fourth of consumers trust their utility, 9 percent below last year and the lowest figure since Accenture began the annual survey four years ago. Globally, customer satisfaction also dropped 12 percentage points to 47 percent in the past year alone.
FirstEnergy clutches its phony customer satisfaction statistics tightly and pretends nothing is wrong. That's great -- a whole bunch of nice folks will keep their jobs for the time being. But because none of them want to tell The Emperor that he's naked, they only facilitate the demise of the company and put their personal financial situation in jeopardy over the long term. How badly run is FirstEnergy that its employees are terrified to make suggestions for improvement? How long has it been since anyone at FirstEnergy's Fairmont call center went home at the end of the day feeling like they made a difference and helped someone? Or, more likely, how often do they burn rubber out of there in order to get home to the liquor cabinet as quickly as possible?
The result is that people are increasingly looking past the utility for energy-related services. Home services providers, security companies and commercial retailers are all taking a piece of what could be new revenue streams for utilities. More than 70 percent of consumers surveyed by Accenture said they would consider a provider other than the utility for energy services if it were available.
“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,” said Greg Guthridge, managing director for Accenture Energy Consumer Services, in a statement. Increasingly, consumer engagement cannot just be a panel topic at smart grid conferences, but instead must become a core undertaking for utilities.
When asked how likely they would be to select a FirstEnergy company if given a choice, 19% said they would be somewhat unlikely, 31% said very unlikely, and an another 31% said "never in a million years."
This isn't shaping up as a bright future for FirstEnergy in West Virginia, as the utility industry remakes itself over the next decade.
It's been one screw up after another in Jefferson County, and since FirstEnergy couldn't be bothered to listen to its customers when given a chance, it has absolutely no concept of just how hated it is. Overall, the utility's satisfaction rating has been hanging around 3.8. Yes, that's on that same 10 point scale where FirstEnergy claimed it was receiving a 9 or 10 from 73% of its customers. Maybe FirstEnergy is holding their statistics upside down, because it sure looks like they've got things backwards?
And if you think that's bad, FirstEnergy's "Customer Service" call center gets a rating even worse than that. It's at an all-time high of 3.3 this morning. It's been as low as 1.98 (also using the 10 point rating scale).
Just a few customer complaints about their call center experience:
"They state that the increase was do to square footage. When we read our meter they told us we were wrong. They refused to read our meter and continue to charge us based on estimated bills."
"Even the staff couldn't answer why my bill was so inconsistent. They have no idea how to average the use without the actual reading. It made it seem like something in my house was consuming electric at an alarming and dangerous rate."
"Horrible customer service, erratic bills (one month $170, the next month $500), not reading the meter every month instead relying on "estimating."
"As I noted above, they could not explain my bill and because I was unhappy with the inability of the customer service person, she hung up on me. I had to call back again and that person could not explain so I was given to a supervisor and while she was nicer, she could not explain it either. Unacceptable."
"Put on hold for so long I gave up."
"Got "stock" answers to questions about billing. Would not really answer questions."
"Long delays before a person answers."
"Very hard to get to the right person to answer my question. I was passed though 8 people in 1 hour to get to the person that I should have gotten in the first place, not someone in a different state who did not have a clue about what I was taking about."
"15min wait timed on hold. Don't return calls as promised. Wrong phone numbers on website."
"Would not help with payment. Resulted in loss of service."
"Rude, rude, rude."
"Promised calls back, never happened. Rude customer reps who cannot/will not answer specific questions about billing/meter reading. Ridiculous!"
"Placed on hold for over an hour, I finally gave up and hung up. My time is too valuable to sit on hold."
In the next few years, utilities will not only have to build out those platforms while also maintaining and upgrading an aging electrical grid, but also do it all while providing a level of customer service many have never had to provide before.
“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 Guthridge. “The first step is making interactions simple, and in particular, getting the basics right the first time."