Going beyond green initiatives: Why the energy utilities sector needs to better support local communities

The energy utilities sector knew what it had to do to improve satisfaction. The people made that very clear.

Last year, when customer satisfaction fell 2.7%, we observed a strong desire for green initiatives. While fixing this area wouldn’t automatically repair the strained relationship between customers and utilities, it would go a long way toward showing that providers not only hear their customers’ concerns but are actively making concerted efforts to improve.

Unfortunately, it appears little has changed.

The grass still isn’t greener

Once again, energy utilities sustained a sector-wide drop in customer satisfaction, falling 1.5% to an American Customer Satisfaction Index score of 72.1 (on a scale of 0 to 100), according to our most recent Energy Utilities Report. And that “green” problem? It’s still there.

In the three categories of energy utilities – investor-owned (down 1.4% overall to 72), municipal (down 1.4% overall to 72), and cooperative (down 2.7% overall to 73) – efforts to support green programs is either the worst or tied for the worst customer experience benchmark.

Overall, investor-owned utilities earned a 70, municipal utilities took home a 69, and cooperative utilities, while finishing with the highest mark at 71, still saw customer satisfaction plummet 4%.

Providers like National Grid, American Electric Power, and PG&E score well below the investor-owned utilities average for green initiatives. The same goes for the group of smaller cooperatives and smaller municipal utilities, which score in the mid-to-high 60s.

Unfortunately, a lack of support for green programs isn’t the only thing hindering customer satisfaction.

Missing out on a sense of community (support)

Customers believe utilities providers could be doing more to support local communities – much more.

Within the investor-owned utilities category, efforts to support the local community is the lowest customer satisfaction benchmark – tied with efforts to support green programs – at 70. National Grid, American Electric Power, and PG&E struggle in this area too. But they’re not alone.

Eversource Energy and FirstEnergy also have plenty of room for improvement among investor-owned utilities.

Municipal utilities providers perform better than investor-owned utilities in this area – but not by much. The industry scores a 72, down 3% from the previous year.

While cooperatives remain the sector leaders for supporting their local communities, they’re doing worse than they did a year ago, dropping 3% to an Index score of 74. Smaller cooperatives have the most room for improvement here as well.

Change in business values

Although the energy utilities sector isn’t offering customers the sort of support they crave for green initiatives or local communities, many of America’s top business leaders are starting to see the light.

Fortune 500 CEOs – 181 of them to be exact – signed a letter showing these very things are important to business. Instead of prioritizing shareholders and maximizing profits, the “purpose of a corporation” needs to center on investing in employees, delivering value to customers, and supporting outside communities through sustainable endeavors.

“Major employers are investing in their workers and communities because they know it is the only way to be successful over the long term. These modernized principles reflect the business community’s unwavering commitment to continue to push for an economy that serves all Americans,” said Jamie Dixon, chairman and CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase and chairman of Business Roundtable, the group of CEOs from major U.S. corporations who released this statement.

While profits will always be part of the equation, top American business leaders recognize how important it is to do right by their customers.

It’s time to listen and act

For the second consecutive year, there’s widespread customer satisfaction decline across the entire energy utilities sector.

All three categories of energy utilities saw their overall scores drop and every aspect of customer experience either declines or remains unchanged. And at or near the bottom of it all is support for green programs and local community.

Once again, energy utility providers know what they must do. Not only are their customers telling them their needs, but other U.S. corporations are preaching a change in values and business practices.

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