Public Power Magazine

How Customers Rate Their Public Power Utilities


From the May-June 2016 issue (Vol. 74, No. 3) of Public Power

Originally published May 1, 2016

May 1, 2016

The American Public Power Association conducted a national survey of 1,600 public power customers between December 2015 and January 2016. The intent was to gauge customer satisfaction levels, utility awareness, and service preferences. Meena Dayak, vice president of integrated media and communications, and Tobias Sellier, director of media relations and communications at APPA, share survey highlights.

What they think
Just over 66 percent of public power customers positively rate the quality of customer service they receive from their electric utility. Electric utilities rank just a little higher than gas, water, wastewater, and phone companies — and significantly higher than cable and Internet companies — in customer service.

There is considerable difference in customer satisfaction ratings across demographics. While nearly 78 percent of people over 55 years of age give their utility high ratings, only 54 percent of customers under 55 rate their electric utility positively.

APPA is concerned at customers’ lack of knowledge about the nature of public power itself. At least 30 percent of public power customers think their utility is driven by a profit motive. Up to 28 percent of public power customers think their utility is privately owned, and another 35 percent think it is government owned. Only 1 in 5 customers under 55 know that their utility is community-owned and is not-for-profit.

Overall, the over-55 population is a little bit better informed about the structure and unique benefits of public power. But there is a knowledge gap among all demographic groups that needs to be addressed so customers can regard their utility as trusted energy advisors and engage more.

What they expect
The APPA survey did not yield any surprises in terms of what customers expect of their utility — low rates, reliable service, and responsive customer service. Customers under 55 rank low rates higher while those over 55 place more store by reliability. Three out of four customers under 55 believe their electric utility meets these expectations most or even all of the time. Most customers think the rates they pay for electricity are reasonable.

Close to 60 percent of customers under 55 think their electric utility responds promptly to customer questions and complaints, maintains reliable infrastructure, and communicates with customers. But only half of this customer segment believes their utility helps them “use less electricity.”

Customers predominantly want information from their utility on electricity rates and how they are determined. And they want to be kept informed about outages and restoration. A little over 30 percent want to be educated on energy issues. And a far smaller number want to know more about how their utility operates and the finances, governance, etc.

Evolving preferences
Nearly 9 in 10 public power customers want their local utility to provide energy from renewable sources like sun, wind, and water.

More than half of customers surveyed want to learn more about energy-efficient appliances, energy audits, and installing solar power in their homes. There is growing interest, especially among the under-55 customers, in smart thermostats, smart meters, and other aspects of grid modernization and tailored services.

APPA is eager to translate the information gleaned from this survey into action and to help member utilities raise awareness of public power in their communities and nurture informed and engaged electricity customers

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EDITORIAL TEAM

Joe Nipper, Senior Vice President, Regulatory Affairs and Communications
Meena Dayak, Vice President, Integrated Media & Communications
Paul Ciampoli, News Director
Jeannine Anderson, News Editor
Laura D’Alessandro, Editor, Integrated Media & Communications
Robert Thomas, Art Director

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Public Power (ISSN 0033-3654) is published six times a year by the American Public Power Association, 2451 Crystal Drive, Suite 1000, Arlington, VA 22202-4804. ©Copyright, 2015, American Public Power Association. Opinions expressed in articles are not necessarily policies of the association. For permission to reprint articles, contact News@publicpower.org. Periodical postage paid in Arlington, VA, and additional mailing offices.