E Source has reported its latest benchmark results for the performance of North American electric company Web sites.

Based on the latest E Source findings, many more utilities now offer self-service functions designed to support the needs of customers who prefer to interact with their utility online. For example, over 70 percent of utility Web sites now allow customers to check their account balance, compared to less than 50 percent in 2005.

The "E Source 2007 Review of North American Electric and Gas Company Web Sites" assesses 111 U.S. and Canadian utility Web sites. This comprehensive report includes detailed benchmarking information that illuminates the state of utility Web sites. To gauge how successful electric company Web sites are in serving residential customers, E Source researchers assessed the companies’ Web sites from the customer’s point of view. Many of the utilities included in the study gave the E Source research team temporary account access to enable a full assessment of their secure online services.

Between December 2006 and March 2007, several reviewers—typical residential energy customers—visited the selected utility Web sites. Each site was visited by multiple reviewers, a different methodology than in earlier surveys E Source has undertaken. While there, they looked for and rated 27 tasks and functions that had been identified by E Source research as the options residential customers most expect to find and use when they interact with a utility’s web site.

This year, the top-rated electric Web sites belong to Pacific Gas and Electric, Florida Power & Light, Wisconsin Public Service, and Progress Energy (Carolinas). This new study—the fourth such Web site review E Source has compiled—is the largest, most detailed benchmark of electric and gas Web sites available. The first study was completed in 2002; E Source found that between that study and this one, most of the utility web sites reviewed have changed significantly in their attempt to keep up with increasing customer expectations.

Ethan Brown, a research analyst at E Source, said, "As online customer care becomes more mainstream and competitive, utilities have to work harder than ever to meet their online customers’ needs. Customers’ expectations are increasing alongside their familiarity with the rising standards of bank, e-commerce, and transportation web sites, so offering them the ability to perform more transactions on a responsive, highly usable web site has become more important."

E Source Senior Research Associate Florence Connally added, "During this review, we clearly saw that companies with web sites that were substantially unchanged from our last review received noticeably lower ratings from our reviewers."

"Some utilities have made multimillion-dollar investments in their Web sites and associated online self service options," added Andrew Heath, director of the E Source E-Business Service. "These companies are getting benefits in terms of increased customer satisfaction from customers wanting to interact online. Getting more traditional customers to use the web site instead of the telephone is still a challenge, but as more and more people become comfortable using online services, the utility web site is fast becoming just one more channel customers choose when they need to contact their utility."

Eastern Region (U.S.). Long Island Power Authority, Pepco, and KeySpan Energy have the best three web sites in the Eastern region.

Midwestern Region (U.S.). Wisconsin Public Service, Vectren, and Alliant Energy have the three best web sites in the Midwest. In addition, the web sites provided by Duke Energy (Midwest), Kansas City Power & Light, Ohio Edison, MidAmerican Energy, and We Energies all performed well.

Southern Region (U.S.). Florida Power & Light, Progress Energy (Carolinas), and Alabama Power offer the three best web sites in the Southern region. Austin Energy, Dominion Power, Duke Energy (South), Progress Energy (Florida), CPS Energy, Georgia Power, and Oklahoma Gas & Electric also offer good web sites.

Western Region (U.S.). In the Western region, Pacific Gas and Electric, NW Natural, and Arizona Public Service provide the three best web sites. San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Gas, Sacramento Municipal Utilities District, Idaho Power, and Portland General Electric also provide good web sites. The three best Canadian web sites are provided by BC Hydro, Terasen Gas, and Hydro-Québec.