September 11th, 2017 by Oren Smilansky

This morning, I was surprised to come across new research which finds that customer satisfaction for utility companies is at an “all-time high.” According to Cogent Reports’ 2017 Utility Trusted Brand & Customer Engagement Residential study, electric and natural gas utilities posted a record breaking score of 767/1,000. The best of these firms, the press release states, “have created experiences with customer ease and convenience in mind.”

I find this somewhat hard to believe, since my experience with utility companies has never been particularly remarkable, and it has certainly not improved in the past few years.

Granted, these companies seem to be at a bit of a disadvantage in the experience department to begin. Customers generally want to have as little contact with their utility providers as possible. Send me my bill, I’ll pay it, and leave me alone for the next month. Seeing an electricity bill–especially during New York City summer months–is not something anyone looks forward to.

What I can say is that my interactions with my current utilities provider–who is ranked in the top 15 in the Eastern Region–are, and have always been, pretty much the same. Once a month I’ll get an email notifying me that my bill is due, that I have about another month to pay before they shut my power off, and that I can pay either online, via mail, or phone.

I consistently choose to pay my bill via the telephone–not because I prefer that channel–but because, for some reason, my online account hasn’t worked properly since I moved into my current apartment. And, though I’ve tried to resolve the issue, it has been too much trouble to fix, even after speaking to a customer service representative who made it fairly clear that to do so would require jumping through more hoops than it might be worth.

Fortunately, I’ve learned how to navigate this company’s confusing phone system. I’ve had to, because if I call the main number listed on the company’s website or in the body of the bill email, I will be directed to another line dedicated specifically to payments. (I’ve written this number, as well as my account number, in a notebook so that I can skip this step and save a few extra minutes each time I call.) Then, once connected to the correct line, an automated voice asks the customer to manually enter his account number–a process which I’m sure can be automated based on the identifiers they’ve already provided (namely, my phone number). When the payment is processed, the robot on the line recommends that I should have a pen and paper handy and write down the confirmation code. 

Now, I don’t claim that this a particularly straining process, but it requires the effort of manually entering data that should be saved in the company’s system. The repeated payment process should be much more seamless than it currently is. And, in an ideal world, customer service would proactively help me figure out how to configure for the easiest payment option. (One can dream!)

But I’ll give it to these companies–the tend to stay to the point, and only reach out to customers when it’s absolutely necessary. They read the crowd, know what their main function is, and don’t clog my inbox with pointless messages. When I get an email from my utility company, I know exactly what to expect when I click on it. And the fact that my lights haven’t been shut off yet is maybe enough reason for celebration.

 

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