40 Electric and Gas Utilities Named 2015 Most Trusted Brands
Residential customers trust their utility more than before, according to a study published by Cogent Reports™, the syndicated division of Market Strategies International. Brand Trust increased by 29 points to 685 (on a 1,000-point scale) over 2014, according to the Residential Utility Trusted Brand & Customer Engagement™ study, which also measures the overall customer engagement relationship. Brand Trust—a core component of Cogents’ Engaged Customer RelationshipTM model—comprises the factors of company reputation & advocacy, customer focus, community support, communication effectiveness, environmental dedication and reliable quality.
Among the factors composing Brand Trust, customer focus and company reputation & advocacy improved the most over last year, indicating the strides utilities are taking to become trusted advisers with their customers. However, environmental dedication showed the least improvement among factors.
“Brand trust is the cornerstone of a utility relationship,” says Chris Oberle, senior vice president at Market Strategies. “Brand trust not only makes customers more satisfied, it also produces positive financial results and makes customers less likely to want regulators to exert increased supervision over their utility.”
The study also finds that improving operations will not likely make customers much happier. In fact, operational satisfaction scores do not improve even when customers have had no outages or safety events, while also never having heard of a rate increase.
“We found that most utilities performing at the bottom of customer satisfaction rankings actually have good operations, but are rated lowly by customers because they just don’t trust these utilities to do the right thing,” continues Oberle.
Building a trusted relationship with customers is also essential to the adoption of value-added utility offerings, such as energy consumption management and other enhanced services and mandates. These products are important to both regulators and utilities, as the products typically positively impact the environment and lower company expenses.
The study finds that almost 40% of customers with low brand trust want “more active utility oversight of their utility,” while half of that amount want increased regulator intervention if they have high utility brand trust.
At the same time, state regulators and public utility commissions are constantly searching for ways to have customers accept higher rates for improved environmental and other mandates.
“Without a good level of brand trust among the utilities they oversee, regulators will continue to meet extreme customer and community resistance against their directives,” says Oberle. “It’s simple--customers like dealing with companies they trust and push back on offerings from companies that are not trusted advisers.”
Good news for the industry: The study names 40 utilities among the 125 covered as the 2015 Most Trusted Brands. These utilities and their regulators, which fall in the top tier for the region and utility type, are well on their way to becoming trusted advisers with their customers.
About Utility Trusted Brand & Engagement Study: Residential
Cogent Reports conducted surveys among 25,812 residential electric, natural gas and combination utility customers of the 125 largest US utility companies (based on residential customer counts). The sample design uses US census data and strict quotas to ensure a demographically balanced sample of each evaluated utility’s customers based on age, gender, income, race and ethnicity. Utilities within the same region and of the same type (e.g., electric-only providers) are given equal weight in order to balance the influence of each utility’s customers on survey results. Market Strategies will supply the exact wording of any survey questions upon request.
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Director, Syndicated Marketing