Is Customer Trust Really at a Crisis?

Utility news services have been all a-Twitter about a new survey by Accenture showing that customers are less satisfied and less trusting of their utility than ever before. It's a pretty big survey: 11,000 consumers in 21 countries. According to the Accenture news release:

"Accenture’s New Energy Consumer research shows that just 24 percent 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. This is the lowest level of trust since the multi-year global research program was launched four years ago. Furthermore, customer satisfaction has drifted lower globally, falling from 59 percent to 47 percent over the past year." and when it comes to customer loyalty, " ..73 percent of the consumers surveyed said they would consider alternative providers for purchasing electricity and alternative energy-related products and services."

Despite all the media hoopla, I don't think this is all that big of a deal when you consider that until a few years ago most customers didn't think of their utility much one way or the other. We were like the manhole cover in the street – hardly noticed until something went wrong. But over the last decade we've been poking our customers with a stick, making them aware of all the gee-whiz stuff we're doing for them. Smart grid, smart meters, barrage of information and offered services from solar panels and air conditioner switches to bill paying options.

So, we've accomplished our goal, I guess. We're no longer just taken for granted. But that means we fall under new scrutiny just like every other commodity provider. Why are we surprised that the majority of our customers would consider alternative providers (assuming they had a choice)? And as far as the trust and satisfaction issues, the more our customers know and ponder about the workings of the utility industry the more they will pick out the flaws. We're in an age of distrust of both big business and big government. Big has become bad and huge is considered horrendous. Our old approach of "Trust me, I'm your benevolent utility!" just doesn't play any more. Customers are watching our walk more than listening to our talk.

But you may not agree with me. Let's find out.

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