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Despite ongoing severe weather across the U.S. resulting in longer outage periods per event, customer satisfaction with residential electric utilities has increased substantially from 2012 driven primarily by improvements in billing/payment, price and outage communications, according to a new report from J.D. Power.

(Editor's note: A recent study from Accenture reported that more than two-thirds of consumers did not "trust" their utilities. That study was taken globally, while the J.P. Power report focuses only on the U.S. To read Accenture's findings, click HERE.)

According to the 2013 Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study, satisfaction among residential customers of electric utilities has jumped in 2013 to 639 (on a 1,000-point scale), up 14 points from 2012. While performance in all factors improves in 2013, billing and payment satisfaction (719) increases by a notable 19 points, the largest increase among six factors the report gauges.

Power quality and reliability, which J.D. Power says is an important driver of customer satisfaction and the second-highest-scoring factor, has improved to 692 from 677 in 2012. Communications satisfaction increases for a third consecutive year, climbing to 585 in 2013 from 579 in 2012 and 575 in 2011. The report adds that satisfaction scores in price (551) and customer service (706) are the highest they have been in the past four years, with customer service increasing by 9 points from 2012.

With severe weather events across the U.S., longer outages were reported in 2012, yet the report says electric utilities have improved their outage communications before, during and after these events. Satisfaction increases when utilities proactively communicate outage information regularly and clearly via the channels customers prefer, including utility-initiated phone calls, emails, text messages and social media sites.

"In addition to improving outage communication, electric utilities have made great strides in improving customer perceptions regarding billing and payment," says Jeff Conklin, senior director of the energy practice at J.D. Power. "With such a dramatic increase in billing and payment satisfaction in the 2013 study, it's clear that the electric utilities have listened to the Voice of the Customer by providing them with many choices to receive and pay their bill and with improved information on their billing statements."

According to the study, satisfaction increases when customers are offered billing and payment options. Satisfaction among customers who select their own payment due date is 756, compared with 714 among those who do not select a due date. Satisfaction among customers who receive an electronic bill is 745, compared with 709 among those who receive only a paper statement. Among customers who are on a fixed budget bill payment plan, satisfaction is 736, compared with 718 among those who are not on this plan.

The report says billing and payment satisfaction increases by 54 points when billing statements include a consumption graph (740). Satisfaction is highest among customers who use their utility's online website to check their account or pay a bill (742), followed by auto-deductions from a bank account (736); recurring credit card payments (726); and through bank's online bill payment (717). The percentage of customers who mail their payment has decreased to 26% in 2013 from 29% in 2012, indicating that customers are using alternative payment options.

In addition, price satisfaction improves substantially for a second consecutive year (+12 points), as customers indicate lower average bill amounts, down $3 per month from 2012 to $132. Price satisfaction is 101 points higher among customer who say they are "very familiar" with their utility's energy-saving programs than among those who say they are only "somewhat familiar."

Power quality and reliability (PQ&R) increases by 15 points in 2013, driven by a 19-point increase in the West region.

Study rankings

The Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study ranks midsize and large utility companies in four geographic regions: East, Midwest, South and West. Companies in the midsize utility segment serve between 125,000 and 499,999 residential customers, while companies in the large utility segment serve 500,000 or more residential customers.

According to the report, the rankings are as follows:

PPL Electric Utilities ranks highest among large utilities in the East region, followed by Central Maine Power; Duquesne Light; and West Penn Power, respectively.

Among midsize utilities in the East region, Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative ranks highest for a sixth consecutive year, followed by Penn Power; Delmarva Power; and Met-Ed, respectively.

MidAmerican Energy ranks highest in the large utility segment in the Midwest region for a sixth consecutive year. We Energies; Alliant Energy; and Xcel Energy-Midwest follow, respectively.

Omaha Public Power District ranks highest in the midsize utility segment in the Midwest region for a sixth consecutive year and receives an award in the study for a 13th consecutive year. Following Omaha Public Power District in the segment rankings are Kentucky Utilities; Wisconsin Public Service; and Indianapolis Power & Light, respectively.

OG&E ranks highest in the large utility segment in the South region, followed by FPL; Georgia Power; and CPS Energy, respectively.

Sawnee EMC ranks highest in the midsize utility segment in the South region, followed by Jackson EMC; Clay Electric Cooperative; and NOVEC, respectively.

Salt River Project (SRP) ranks highest in the large utility segment in the West region for a sixth consecutive year and receives an award in the study for a 12th consecutive year. Following Salt River Project in the segment rankings are SMUD; Portland General Electric; and APS, respectively.

Clark Public Utilities ranks highest in the midsize utility segment in the West region for a sixth consecutive year, followed by Colorado Springs Utilities; Seattle City Light; and Snohomish County PUD, respectively.

More information on the J.D. Power report is available HERE.

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