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Globally, less than one-quarter of consumers trust their utilities, according to an annual survey by Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company.

The survey, which polled more than 11,000 consumers in 21 countries, shows that just 24% of consumers trust their utility to inform them of actions they can take to optimize energy consumption - a decrease of nine percentage points from 2012. Accenture says this is the lowest level of trust since its multi-year global research program was launched four years ago. Furthermore, customer satisfaction has drifted lower globally, falling from 59% to 47% over the past year.

In fact, across both regulated and competitive energy markets, the report says 73% of respondents would consider turning to alternative providers of electricity and energy-related products and services.

“In the evolving energy marketplace, 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,” says Greg Guthridge, Accenture Energy Consumer Services managing director. “The first step is making interactions simple - in particular, getting the basics right the first time. Each touch point with the consumer is critical, whether it involves mobile or digital options for straightforward transactions or higher-touch interactions to resolve issues.”

Despite the fact that many utilities have increased spending on consumer-centric programs, such as online self-service, this has yet to translate directly into improved trust or satisfaction, the report says. Storms, challenges with service reliability and price volatility have all contributed to decreasing customer trust and satisfaction.

The research says that delivering the basics of the customer experience is key to building consumer trust. The vast majority of consumers surveyed said that consistently getting the bill correct (9%), receiving reliable energy delivery (91%) and getting clear and easy-to-understand pricing information (91%) are the factors that matter most in building their trust with energy providers.

However, Accenture says the survey also shows that there are significant gaps between consumers’ expectations and their utilities’ performance. For example, while 91% of consumers said that clear and easy-to-understand pricing information is important, only 69% would rate their providers’ performance in that area as good or excellent - a gap of 22%.

“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,” comments Guthridge.

Accenture says responses from survey participants indicate that utilities have several opportunities to better engage with their customers, including the following:

Delivering a “smarter” experience: The vast majority of respondents – 87% - said that once their utility supplies them with a smart meter, they expect the company to provide additional energy-related products or services, including personalized advice on actions they can take to reduce their bill, information on new product and service offerings, bill notifications and home-energy management solutions. Similarly, if their utility were to provide them with a variable-rate plan option in which the price of energy changes throughout the day, 92% of consumers surveyed said they would expect the utility to offer new features to help them manage their bill.

Tackling consumer costs:
Reducing the household energy bill is a consumer priority. More than three-quarters (76%) of survey respondents expect detailed online access to their energy usage information, and half (50%) want online personalized tips on actions they can take to reduce their energy bill.

Acting as an energy advisor:
The report says 81% of consumers would be more interested in purchasing energy-related products and/or services if their utility were to provide them information on how to save on their energy bill.

Extending the mobile experience:
The report says increased use of mobile devices is driving the demand for mobile energy experiences with personalized information. Thirty-eight percent of consumers said they would like to receive notifications about their energy usage on their mobile device. And 32% said they would like to have the ability to remotely control their home heating, cooling and appliances using their mobile devices.

“It’s becoming clear that utilities are at a turning point when it comes to serving the new, tech-savvy consumer,” Guthridge says. “Satisfaction and trust are built on consistently delivering the basic customer experience whether through digital or traditional channels. Once in place, utilities have incredible opportunities to create digitally powered value propositions that can deliver step-change consumer engagement.”

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