- Cogent Reports released a statement on the quarterly analysis of its utility survey database on Thursday, which found consumers no longer prefer utilities as their rooftop solar and distributed service providers.
- Surveying over 52,000 residential customers across 132 utilities, the Cogent analysis by Market Strategies International-Morpace (MSI-M) showed customer demand for technologies like electric vehicle (EV) charging and solar power more than doubled since 2017. However, customer preference for utilities as solar power providers fell from 68% in 2017 to 47% in the third quarter of this year and preference for EV charging offerings increased by 66% for third-party providers.
- Utility online marketplaces continue to pop up, boosting opportunities for customer engagement. "We're at the early stages of this for most utilities, where they're looking at incorporating solar offerings ... or information about EVs or even selling EV chargers in their marketplace," K.C. Boyce, senior product director at MSI-M, told Utility Dive.
The survey hints that more and more consumers want engagement with their utility, such as advice, tools and products. Even having the offering will increase brand trust to residential customers, Boyce said.
"What we've seen in this study has been that when customers look to their utility for information on new energy technology offerings, ... if the utility doesn't have something to respond to that customer need, they are going to view their utility a lot less favorably," Boyce said.
Even if customers end up buying a product, like rooftop solar, from a third-party competitor, Boyce said a utility will be viewed more favorably if it offers customers an option to buy solar. The flip-side, he said, is that customers that end up going with a third-party for an energy-related product or service not offered by the utility will view their energy provider less favorably.
As a utility "you're competing for customer mind share and share of the wallet around some of these things. But from an overall engagement and a relationship standpoint, just the mere presence of a utility offering help strengthens that relationship and an absence of the offering erodes the relationship," Boyce said.
Cogent Reports uses a trademarked measurement of "brand trust," assessed through surveys of individuals that are representative of a utility's service territory.
"You can actually look at how the utility nests, if you will, from a benchmark standpoint in terms of performance on brand trust," against other companies, Chris Oberle, MSI-M senior vice president, told Utility Dive. "Amazon leads the pack for instance, we typically find."
Previous Cogent reports have also suggested the importance of brand trust in a utility-customer relationship, such as in 2015, when the customer trust average for electric and gas utilities was 725 on a 1,000-point scale. The industry average currently is 687.
Low utility brand trust, according to MSI-M's press statement, correlates with "a very high preference for third-party providers."
"The power of having a strong brand with consumers can translate into capturing some of that share of wallet in a very different way than utilities are used to interacting with their customers," Boyce said.