Graphic of a complaint box set in front of a graph, with multiple complaint slips floating into the box.

Learn from Common PUC Complaints to Create a More Intelligent Customer Experience

Although receiving customer complaints can be discouraging, these complaints can provide helpful information on how energy companies can improve their business operations. Specifically, Public Utility Commissions (PUCs) in every state collect and publish complaint data to help utility companies improve their customer support efforts.

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However, only 13 states have PUCs that provide more detailed information on the nature and context for customer complaints. A lack of data and categorization of such data can be detrimental to extracting insights on customer sentiment, but there are other ways to access similar information. The Texas Coalition for Affordable Power (TCAP), for example, has assembled a detailed report on Texas PUC complaints to provide better understanding of the national complaint landscape.

Using PUC Complaints to Improve Customer Experience

Public Utility Commission complaints are like negative Yelp reviews for energy providers. In the age of the empowered consumer, companies need to do whatever they can to avoid them. As any retailer on Amazon can attest, poor reviews are the quickest way to weaken a company. And a poor customer experience is the quickest way to accumulate poor reviews.

According to the TCAP report, the top three complaints from energy customers revolve around billing, cramming, and provisions of service. While providing an intelligent customer experience requires optimization for more than just those issues, addressing those main PUC complaints will help improve overall CX.

Using data from the Texas PUC as an example, energy companies can improve overall CX by focusing on consumers’ top three complaints.

Every company is unique and so is every customer and their concerns. Energy companies can learn from the top PUC utility complaints collected nationwide and show customers that they care about their experiences. Using data from the Texas PUC as an example, energy companies can improve overall CX by focusing on billing, cramming, and provisions of service. Below we’ve outlined three strategies that will show current and future customers that their needs are prioritized, thereby increasing acquisition and customer lifetime value.

#1 Complaint: Billing

To the average consumer, energy bills are confusing and difficult to understand. While standard to the energy industry, “kilowatt-hours” and “British Thermal Units” seem like jargon meant to obfuscate billing practices. The top-ranked energy companies mitigate confusion among their customers by clearly demarcating their bills and communicating proactively with customers about charges.

Users complain about their bills when the amount is higher than expected or they are charged hidden fees. Other billing concerns include deposit amounts, metering measurements, dispute resolution, and unclear payment methods and plans.

Tracking the number and frequency trends of billing complaints can help companies achieve more customer empathy. When companies store data over time, it’s easier to identify why customers complain. With this knowledge, companies can proactively work to ensure it happens less in the future.

CX Solution: Improve Billing Visibility with Communication Channels

While billing is the top complaint, don’t misunderstand what that means. Customers aren’t complaining about paying for their electricity consumption. They’re frustrated about the lack of visibility into what they are being charged for and why. According to PUC reports, the best energy companies are transparent with their customers about upcoming billing charges.

Beyond basic transparency, providing open communication channels via chat and text can help companies provide exceptional customer service to address billing concerns. When utility companies allow customers to contact them how and when they prefer, potential friction points are eased and brand loyalty is built.

Creating and optimizing customer care content can also alleviate billing concerns by helping customers answer their own questions before resorting to a phone call to a support center. If customers don’t have to contact a company directly to understand their billing, they’ll have fewer reasons to complain.

These channels can also be used to share information proactively. For example, companies can send reminder texts at the start of summer to let customers know that their bill will likely increase as they use more air conditioning, or create targeted content based on historical and seasonal trends to answer potential questions customers might have.

#2 Complaint: Cramming

Once customers understand their bills, the next thing to watch out for is cramming. Cramming, or adding misleading charges to an electric bill, is one of the quickest ways to erode customers’ trust. When extra charges are added to consumers’ bills, utility companies are demonstrating that money is more important than their consumers’ needs.

Knowing more about common complaints and how they shape customer interactions can help utility companies create an incredible overall experience for users.

In deregulated markets, adding unauthorized charges to a customer’s bill is illegal. Despite the potential legal ramifications, cramming has been a regular practice for the past two decades in many industries, including phone and internet.

Customers are understandably frustrated by cramming. While changes to products and services are bound to happen, they must be communicated clearly. Otherwise, such practices are unethical and quickly lead to lost customers and revenue.

CX Solution: Design Customer-Centric Onboarding Practices

To achieve a flawless brand reputation, utility companies must be clear about each charge customers can expect during the onboarding process. When customers have that knowledge, and confidence in its accuracy, overall satisfaction increases and they are more likely to remain with a brand.

When sales agents onboard new customers, part of their workflow should include a verbal overview of each section of the bill to explain what charges are included each month and why. It may mean the average handle time on calls or chats increases slightly, but a little extra care at this stage means less chance of a customer misunderstanding their bill and accusing a company of cramming.

#3 Complaint: Provisions of Service

The term provisions of service refers to how the service is provided, namely getting it initiated and running in a timely manner. Other issues that often come up in this complaint category include poor or deceptive customer service practices.

There are many ways that provision of service can lead to PUC complaints:

  • Time between purchase and setup is too long
  • Transfer of service is too confusing or difficult
  • Service is set up incorrectly or requires multiple appointments
  • Power goes out frequently or for extended periods of time
  • Add-ons are incorrectly advertised as part of a package
  • Trial periods and prices are unclear

This type of subpar treatment will leave customers feeling frustrated and undervalued.

CX Solution: Rethink an Approach to Customer Care Content

Customers will have questions about outages, usage rate increases, and setup status. The more information utility companies can provide for them upfront, the more they’ll appreciate a service—even if it means dealing with greater charges in the long term.

When users see that companies care about their pain points enough to create customer care content, brand reputation will significantly increase. When companies give customers the tools and knowledge they need to address their issues, and they’ll trust the company to take care of their needs. In fact, other industries facing similar issues have used customer care content to improve overall customer experience.

The Best Energy Companies Provide Intelligent CX

Knowing more about common complaints and how they shape customer interactions can help utility companies improve their end goal of creating an incredible overall experience for users.

Want to learn more about Clearlink’s performance marketing techniques? Check out our Intelligent CX Solutions designed to help you create a stellar experience for your customers.

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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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