Residential customers of electric utility providers indicate that their monthly electric bill amounts have declined and power reliability has improved from 2009, resulting in a notable increase in overall satisfaction, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2010 Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study released today.

The study measures customer satisfaction with electric utility companies by examining six key factors: power quality and reliability; price; billing and payment; corporate citizenship; communications; and customer service.

Residential customer satisfaction with utility companies averages 630 on a 1,000-point scale in 2010--increasing from 618 in 2009. In 2010, customer-reported bill amounts have decreased by 5 percent from 2009. Power reliability has also improved, with customer-reported service interruptions decreasing by 8 percent. Overall, 37 percent of customers indicate experiencing no power interruptions in 2010, compared with 33 percent in 2009.

When outages do occur, utility companies are doing a better job of communicating with their customers about power restoration, as well as meeting estimated restoration times in 2010, compared with 2009.

"Utility companies are continuing to improve when it comes to managing customer expectations around power outages and restoration of service," said Jeff Conklin, senior director of the energy and utility practice at J.D. Power and Associates. "Even though outages can have a negative impact on satisfaction, utility providers who manage these incidents properly--by providing sufficiently detailed information about the outage and restoring power when they say they will--may be able to mitigate declines, or even improve satisfaction."

The study finds that 11 percent of customers have contacted their utility company regarding an overdue bill amount. While overall satisfaction is particularly low among these customers (611, on average), efforts taken by utility companies to assist customers with their bills may substantially raise satisfaction. In particular, among customers whose utility companies waived their late payment fees, satisfaction averages 704--well above the industry average, and also higher than satisfaction among customers who didn't have an overdue balance (634, on average).

Fulfilling key performance indicators may have a substantial positive impact on customer satisfaction with electric utility companies. In particular, among customers who say that their utility delivered on five key performance indicators--such as making customers aware of community outreach activities and conservation programs--satisfaction averages nearly 275 points higher than satisfaction among customers whose utilities performed only one key indicator.

The study also finds that fewer than one in six residential customers say they are aware of actions taken by their utility to implement smart grid and smart meter technology. While overall awareness of utility actions to implement smart grid technology is relatively low, awareness has increased slightly during the past year, from 12 percent in July and August 2009 to 16 percent in April and May 2010.

However, when residential customers are aware of smart electricity technology and their utility's actions around it, overall satisfaction with the utility company increases notably. This presents an important opportunity for utility companies seeking to increase customer satisfaction, which often has significant bearing on rate case decisions.

The study ranks large and midsize utility companies in four geographic regions: East, Midwest, South and West. Companies in the midsize utility segments serve between 125,000 and 499,999 residential customers, while companies in the large utility segment serve 500,000 or more residential customers.

East Region

Among large utilities in the East region, Central Maine Power ranks highest for a third consecutive year. Following in the segment rankings are PPL Electric Utilities and Public Service Electric and Gas, respectively.

In the East region midsize utility segment, Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative ranks highest for a third consecutive year, followed by Rochester Gas & Electric and Central Vermont Public Service, respectively.

Midwest Region

MidAmerican Energy ranks highest among large utility companies in the Midwest region for a third consecutive year. Xcel Energy--Midwest follows MidAmerican Energy, while KCP&L ranks third in the segment.

Omaha Public Power District ranks highest among midsize utility companies in the Midwest region and receives an award in the study for a 10th consecutive year. Following Omaha Public Power District in the segment are Indianapolis Power and Light and Kentucky Utilities, in a tie.

South Region

Duke Energy--Carolinas ranks highest among large utility companies in the South region. Following Duke Energy--Carolinas in the rankings are Oklahoma Gas and Electric and CPS Energy, respectively.

Jackson EMC ranks highest among midsize utility companies in the South region, followed by NOVEC and Santee Cooper, respectively.

West Region

Salt River Project ranks highest in the West region large utility segment and receives an award in the study for a ninth consecutive year. Following Salt River Project in the segment rankings are Sacramento Municipal Utility District and Portland General Electric, respectively.

Clark Public Utilities ranks highest among midsize utility companies in the West region for a third consecutive year, followed by Tacoma Power and Intermountain Rural Electric Association, respectively.

The 2010 Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study is based on responses from more than 85,000 online interviews conducted from July 2009 through May 2010 among residential customers of the 121 largest electric utility brands across the United States, which collectively represent more than 93 million households.