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Customer Surveys Reveal High Satisfaction in Some Areas, Gaps in Others

May 01, 2017

Man and woman sitting on a couch, looking at bills with pens and calculators in hand

Part of being a public utility is understanding how you—our customer-owners—rate our performance, and making decisions that reflect the values and choices of the community.

Public utilities like EWEB are distinctly different from the investor-owned electric providers, and even rural electric cooperatives, because we are fully accountable to our customers. You have a say in the policies and practices of your electric and water utility.

As part of our commitment to accountability and transparency, we regularly conduct customer satisfaction surveys, as well as focus groups and stakeholder interviews to measure customers' opinions and identify trends over time. Through routine outreach in a variety of forms, and through qualitative, informal feedback, we've built up a clear body of research about how you view our performance, and your priorities in terms of products, services, programs, and spending.

We use surveys to understand your preferences and expectations on a variety of subjects, including product quality and reliability, service, communication and prices. We also collect feedback through more in-depth focus groups, expert panels and advisory committee discussions about emerging and current issues such as modernization efforts, plans to diversify our water sources, pricing models, conservation programs and community or environmental initiatives. Through post-program participation or transactional surveys, we learn about your individual experiences with EWEB employees and program contractors.

Ultimately, the goal of this outreach is to better align our work with your needs and expectations.

The most recent customer satisfaction survey was completed in 2015; the first quarterly survey of 2017 wraps up in early May.

In 2015, a total of 1,109 randomly-sampled residential customers completed or partially completed interviews (816 online and 293 by phone).  Here are a few high-level results:

  • Reliability and our core business functions remain extremely high, both in customer satisfaction and perceived importance. Customers have the highest satisfaction with drinking water quality and water and electric service reliability, which received average ratings between 8.3 and 8.8 on a 10-point scale.
  • Satisfaction has significantly improved for responsiveness to customers' needs and concerns, moving from 7.3 in 2014 to 7.6 in 2015, and for efforts to control costs, which moved from 5.7 in 2014 to 6.0 in 2015.
  • Our plans to diversify and add alternate water sources are considered very important by most customers (88 percent felt it was important to do so, including 59 percent who felt it was very important).
  • Customers are still learning about Smart Meters, but appear to value the features they offer, and an increasing proportion is indicating favorability for the modernized meters.

The survey also included a "Gap Analysis," providing insights into the relationship between importance and satisfaction. In 2015, the most significant differences between satisfaction and importance existed for efforts to control costs, protection of drinking water sources, and responsiveness to customer needs and concerns.

Graph from 2015 customer survey showing perceived importance and satisfaction in a number of areas

The gap between importance and satisfaction with efforts to control costs is a clear improvement opportunity, and a trend we've seen for several years running.

Graph showing gap between importance and satisfaction with efforts to control costs

In 2016, we did not issue a customer satisfaction survey, but instead hired a consultant to conduct one-on-one interviews with a cross-section of community stakeholders to gather meaningful feedback about the future direction of the utility. Twenty-two people representing business interests, community organizations, nonprofits, energy advocates, young professionals and other opinion leaders participated.

The interview results were mostly consistent with past satisfaction surveys. Reliability is the clear top priority. The interviewees gave us high marks for customer service and conservation programs. And while they viewed economic development and social needs support as important community issues, they questioned EWEB's role and spending in these areas.

We heard similar feedback about community programs in the 2015 Customer Satisfaction Survey. Community involvement such as grants, sponsorships and special events are considered a strategic or "value-added" activity, according to customer research, and rank below safety, reliability and affordability.

Customer feedback about spending priorities and satisfaction with efforts to control costs are driving factors behind General Manager Frank Lawson's new affordability target. Currently, EWEB customers spend approximately 4 percent of the median income in Eugene on power and water bills. Frank would like us to be closer to 3.2 percent of median income, a 20 percent improvement. To get there, Frank and our Executive Team are working on plans to trim $15 million and some 60 full-time position from the annual budget by 2020.

More outreach planned

We're continuning our outreach to gather detailed information on customer sentiment. Some of the upcoming initiatives include:

  • Survey of contractors and builders regarding how we can better support electric and water projects
  • Customer satisfaction survey, which we will now be administering quarterly
  • Greenpower customer survey
  • Atrium and contact center transactional surveys (every 15th customer)
  • Residential electric pricing advisory committee to explore different pricing reform options (meetings are open to the public; check our Community Calendar for future meeting dates)

By participating in these surveys and other public engagement activities, you have the opportunity to exercise your voice on big questions we face, including investments in local infrastructure, energy conservation and energy efficiency programs, budget and prices, energy resources, customer policies, and level of support for environmental and community programs.  

We will keep you updated on the results of our outreach, as well as our plans and progress.