2019 Energy Consumer Insights: Exclusive Report

We asked 18,000 Americans about their energy preferences. Here’s what we found…

Focusing on various deregulated energy markets in the US, Clearlink surveyed over 18,000 Americans to uncover new energy consumer insights. In what follows, we share up-to-date consumer preference data within three areas of the US—Texas, the Northeast, and the Midwest.

Methodology

The insights shared within this report come from data gathered by Clearlink via Google Surveys. Clearlink’s surveys were conducted between May and June 2019 with a target sample size of 2,000 respondents per question. The primary focus was on deregulated energy markets by region in the United States; however, some regulated states were also automatically included in regional surveys by Google.

About These Surveys

• Over 6,000 respondents per region (approximately 2,000 respondents per question)
Survey platform: Google Surveys
Surveyed three distinct regions, with a mix of regulated and deregulated markets (*Regulated States)
      • Texas (While no state is entirely deregulated, Texas stands out—with approximately 85% of Texans having access to a choice of energy providers.)
      • Northeast: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont
      • Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin
• Six age groups surveyed: 18–24, 25–34, 35–44, 45–54, 55–64, 65+
Generational identifiers: Throughout this study we refer to generational nicknames. Consensus on exact ages varies, but we use the following scale:
      • 
Gen Zers: 18–24
      •
Millennials: 23–34
      • 
Gen Xers: 35–54
      •
Boomers: 55+
• Question format: Multiple answers were allowed for some survey questions, resulting in some totals over 100%. Response options displayed in random order unless responses were on a scale from not-at-all-satisfied to very satisfied.

Key Findings: Texas

With 85% of the population having access to deregulated markets, Texas is the model for open, made-to-order energy.

Behind Price, It’s Reputation That Pays

Survey Question: What are the most important things you consider when choosing a gas or electricity provider?
Respondents: 2,003
Answers Received: 2,782
Response Format (Multiple Responses Allowed):
      • Pricing
      • Energy provider’s reputation
      • Availability of sustainable energy solutions
      • Ability to compare providers
      • Helpfulness of customer service agent
      • Ease of online purchase experience
      • Other (user-generated response)
Key Observation: Competing on price alone isn’t sustainable. Companies can stand out by building the best reputation.

Pricing is overwhelmingly the main factor that all Texans surveyed prioritize when choosing a provider. While pricing was the most important factor to every generation, it was most important to Gen X at 66% and least important to Gen Z at 56.7%. 

Reputation was the second-most important factor for four of the six age groups we surveyed. Surprisingly, it was most important to people 65+ at 29.3% and least important to Gen Zers at 12.7%.

These responses reveal that while price will always be a major factor, brand reputation is where energy companies have an opportunity to differentiate themselves without sacrificing margin. 

If Providers Aren’t Grandfathered, They’re Googled

Survey Question: How did you find your current electricity provider?
Respondents: 2,000
Answers Received: 2,000
Response Format (Single Responses Only):
      • Used same provider from my former residence
      • Used what the prior tenant/owner had
      • Used Google to compare options in my area
      • Recommended by realtor/landlord/neighbor
      • Other (user-generated response)
Key Observation: Consumers tend to stick with the status quo. When consumers are ready to switch, providers with a strong digital presence are more likely to win them over. 

Texas consumers preferred to stay with the same energy provider they had at their previous residence. The second-most popular response shows us that new tenants and homeowners prefer to use the same provider the previous owner used, rather than go through the process of shopping around.

Using Google to compare providers was the second-most popular option for the 18–24 and 35–44 age groups surveyed. 

According to these results, providers face an uphill battle in getting consumers to switch companies. With the majority of consumers taking a passive approach to energy shopping, the battle for new business will be fought over a small slice of the overall market. Brands with the stronger digital presence stand to gain more of those consumers than brands without one. 

What Consumers Don’t Know Can Hurt You

Survey Question: Did you know Texas is a deregulated market, where electricity companies compete for your business?
Respondents:
2,009
Answers Received: 2,009
Response Format (Single Responses Only):
     
Yes, I knew that
     
No, I did not know that
Key Observation: Younger consumers are less aware of deregulated energy and require additional education opportunities.

A little over half of all Texans surveyed were aware that they lived in a deregulated state. Gen Zers were the least savvy, with 69.8% responding no, followed by Millennials at 54.6%.

We know, from our surveying, that younger audiences in Texas use Google to compare providers and we also know they’re unaware about the deregulated market. We expect more energy providers to invest in digital marketing channels to reach this audience who are already comparing their options

Key Findings: Northeast

Home to the first energy companies in the US, the Northeast contains the highest density of deregulated energy in the country.

Moving Shakes Things Up

Survey Question: If you had the option, would you ever consider switching your gas or electricity provider if you weren’t moving?
Respondents:
2,001
Answers Received: 2,001
Response Format (Single Responses Only):
     
Yes
     
No
Key Observation: Consumers don’t want to think twice about services they use daily, like gas and electricity, so providers generally have one shot at acquiring a customer. The best opportunity appears to be with those in the process of moving. 

Survey results show that Northeasterners aren’t interested in changing their energy provider if they aren’t changing residences. Older respondents were slightly more open to the idea, with 28.4% of Gen Xers and Boomers indicating they would shop around outside of a move, compared to 25.3% of 18-to-34-year-olds. 

Entice New Consumers with a Better Experience

Survey Question: Besides pricing, which factors would lead you to switch your gas or electricity provider today?
Respondents:
2,000
Answers Received: 2,675
Response Format (Multiple Responses Allowed):
      • Customer service/experience
     
Incentives (rebates, prepaid gift cards)
     
Sustainable energy solution options
     
Brand trust and transparency
     
A provider’s environmental practices
     
Other (user-generated response)
Key Observation: After price, consumers care most about the customer experience.

Overall, the customer experience energy brands provide is the main factor Northeasterners  look for in a new energy provider. But when broken down by age group, customer experience was the number-one answer only for consumers aged 35 and above. While sustainable energy was the number-one factor for Gen Zers and Millennials in the Northeast, customer experience was a close second choice for those groups as well.

The data suggests that all consumers demand a good customer experience, while the younger generations lean toward sustainability as their main energy concern. 

Embrace Fast, Effortless Self-Service

Survey Question: How would you prefer to sign up for gas or electricity service?
Respondents:
2,001
Answers Received: 2,001
Response Format (Single Responses Only):
      • Website (submit an online form)
     
Phone call
     
Live online chat
     
Other (user-generated response)
Key Observation: Consumers overwhelmingly prefer a fast, online, self-service experience.

Over half of all respondents chose the self-service web option as their preferred method of signing up for service. Signing up over the phone ranked second, with a third of all Northeasterners surveyed choosing that method. While chat was the third-most common choice among all age groups, Northeastern Gen Zers were most likely to choose it as their preferred method (16.4%), with Boomers being the least prone to engage over chat (7.4%).

Even as trends that show online chat is becoming a growing communication channel while phone calls are becoming less preferred, over-the-phone communication still maintains healthy dominance when it comes to signing up for energy service. Ultimately, the results show that most Northeasterners want a fast, easily navigable website experience where they can sign up for energy.

Key Findings: Midwest

With some of the highest energy demands in the winter, the Midwest is an enormous opportunity for competitive retail energy.

Most Consumers Are Committed

Survey Question: How satisfied are you with your gas or electricity service overall in the last 6 months?
Respondents:
2,004
Answers Received: 2,004
Response Format (Single Responses Only): On a scale of 1–5, with 1 being “not at all satisfied” and 5 being “very satisfied,” how satisfied are you with your gas or electricity service in the last six months?
Key Observation: Most Midwestern consumers are satisfied with their energy provider, but 20% of consumers could still be won over by another brand. 

On average, energy consumers are much more satisfied with their current service than dissatisfied. The most satisfied group were the Boomers with 31.9% responding “very satisfied,” while the Millennials and Gen Xers in the Midwest had the highest responses of “not at all satisfied” with 12.7% and 12.6% respectively.

Further questions would be required to determine what factors contributed to Midwesterners’ satisfaction rates, but it does show an opportunity for energy providers to win new consumers from the pool of dissatisfied and very dissatisfied groups. 

Deliver an Experience in Sustainability

Survey Question: Besides lower pricing, what else would make you more satisfied with your gas or electricity provider?
Respondents:
2,017
Answers Received: 2,401
Response Format (Multiple Responses Allowed):
      • Incentives (rebates, prepaid gift cards)
      • More s
ustainable energy solution options
      • Better c
ustomer service/experience
     
Transparent environmental practices
     
Other (user-generated response)
Key Observation: Midwestern Gen Zers and Millennials indicated more than any other age group that they would be more satisfied with their service if energy providers offered more sustainable energy options. Boomers ranked sustainability only 2% below incentives.

Overall, financial incentives narrowly exceeded sustainable energy options as the top answer. Financial incentives are the top motivator within the 35–44 (36.2%), 45–44 (38.2%) and 55–64 (36.6%) age groups. All other groups chose sustainability as the biggest satisfaction driver, including 18-to-24-year-olds (38%) and those 65 years and older (35.2%).

Gender disparity was also evident in this question, as men in the Midwest seem to care more about incentives (34.3%), whereas women seem to care more about more sustainable energy options (40%). Millennial women cared the most about sustainability at 43.9%. 

Prioritize Billing Transparency

Survey Question: How might your energy bill be more useful to you?
Respondents:
2,001
Answers Received: 2,229
Response Format (Multiple Responses Allowed):
      • Alert me sooner about high energy use
     
Compare my costs to my neighborhood averages
     
Include more charts or graphics
     
Other (user-generated response)
Key observation: Energy customers want transparency to help reduce the size of their bills.

In these survey results, respondents indicated that their energy bills could be made more useful to them with increased transparency. Alerts when they’re using more energy than normal was the number-one response for 44.1% of those surveyed. Data visualization was most popular  among Gen Z respondents, with 35.4% wanting more charts and graphs on their bill. 

Women in the Midwest indicated they cared most about being alerted quickly about their home’s high energy use, whereas men were more interested in comparing their home’s energy costs to their neighborhood’s. 

Consumers are looking for better communication and more proactive ways to lower their energy bills. Ultimately, consumers want pricing transparency among their community and in their billing from their energy providers.

Conclusion

These survey results paint some clear takeaways on what customers expect from their energy providers. Our data shows consumers want the following:
     
Better customer experience with competitive pricing
     
Sustainable energy options
     
Transparent billing with proactive solutions to manage usage
     
Clear and easy paths to self-service
     
Education on what deregulated energy means for them

By keeping these expectations in mind, energy providers can show consumers they understand their needs and have solutions that will keep them happy for the long term. 

To learn more about how Clearlink’s energy solutions can help your company, click HERE. 

 

For media inquiries about this report on energy consumer insights, please contact sarah.pike@clearlink.com.

Jason Kol

Jason joined Clearlink’s partner strategy team in 2016 and currently oversees the home services partner strategy team, driving results for our partners in the energy industry. Prior to joining Clearlink, Jason spent 18 years in franchising and held various roles, including executive vice president of information technology and, most recently, executive vice president of sales and marketing. In his free time, you’ll find Jason on his mountain bike enjoying Utah’s great outdoors. 

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