Public power utilities earn high scores for business customer satisfaction

November 30, 2020

by Paul Ciampoli
APPA News Director
November 30, 2020

A new J.D. Power study shows that public power utilities in several parts of the U.S. are among the leading utilities to earn high marks for business customer satisfaction.

J.D. Power on Nov. 18 released its 2020 Electric Utility Business Customer Satisfaction Study.

Within each of the four U.S. geographic regions included in the study, utility providers are classified into one of two segments: large (serving 85,000 or more business customers) and midsize (serving 40,000-84,999 business customers).

The 2020 Electric Utility Business Customer Satisfaction Study, now in its 22nd year, measures satisfaction among business customers of 88 targeted U.S. electric utilities, each of which serves more than 40,000 business customers.

Overall satisfaction is examined across six factors (listed in order of importance): power quality and reliability; corporate citizenship; price; billing and payment; communications; and customer contact.

The index ranking is based on a 1,000-point scale and also included customers of investor-owned utilities.

In the midsize segment for the Midwest Region, Nebraska’s Omaha Public Power District ranked third with a score of 789.

In the South region’s midsize segment, five of the 12 listed utilities were public power utilities. Fourth place Texas public power utility Austin Energy earned a score of 808. Nashville Electric Service (ranked sixth) posted a score of 792, followed by Florida’s JEA in seventh place (score of 787) and eighth place Texas public power utility CPS Energy (score of 781).

Memphis Light, Gas and Water in Tennessee came in 12th in with a score of 736 in the region’s midsize segment.

In the West region’s large segment, Arizona public power utility Salt River Project earned second place out of 12 utilities with a score of 809.

In the West region’s midsize segment the top three utilities were public power utilities: Seattle City Light (number one spot, 822 score); California’s SMUD (number two spot, 813 score); and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (third spot, 804 score). There were a total of six utilities ranked in the West region’s midsize segment.

The study was based on responses from 18,457 online interviews of business customers in decision-making roles related to their utility company. The study was fielded from February through October 2020.

J.D. Power reported that overall business customer satisfaction with electric utilities was 793, up 14 points from 2019, driven largely by improvements in customer contact and power quality and reliability. Nearly one-third (31%) of business customers said they received perfect power throughout 2020, up from 29% in 2019. Among those businesses that did experience an outage, 61% said they received some form of proactive communication from their utility.

Overall satisfaction among large businesses has increased eight points during the COVID-19 pandemic, while satisfaction among small and medium-sized businesses has declined during the same period. Small businesses posted the largest decline (-11 points) from the pre-pandemic period of Feb. 12-March 11 through the end of fielding in October. Small businesses in the study also cited increased financial stress during the pandemic, with 27% saying they are financially worse off now than before the pandemic.

Overall customer satisfaction was significantly higher (73 points) among the 64% of businesses that are aware of COVID-19-related relief efforts, such as late payment forgiveness, waived charges and fees and community support initiatives. However, 36% of business customers say they are unaware of these efforts.