Overall satisfaction with electric suppliers in the UK has declined from 2010 as customers react to widespread price increases implemented by utility companies, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2011 UK Electricity and Gas Supplier Customer Satisfaction Study released today.

Overall satisfaction with electric utility suppliers has declined to an average of 612 on a 1,000-point scale in 2011, a decrease of eight points from 2010.

The study finds that monthly customer-reported bill amounts have increased considerably in 2011, compared with 2010. Monthly electricity bills in 2011 average 50.90 pounds-4 percent higher than in 2010.

"There is confusion among customers about the necessity and fairness of rate increases that have been imposed by all utility providers in the UK, particularly since oil prices-which typically drive utility pricing-have declined recently and utility companies are posting large profits," said Stuart Crawford-Browne, director of the services and emerging industries division at J.D. Power and Associates.

Customer backlash against increased utility prices has manifested in greater likelihood that customers will switch utility suppliers, with 30 percent of electric customers in 2011 saying they "probably will" or "definitely will" switch, compared with 26 percent in 2010. Among gas customers, switching intent has increased to 30 percent from 25 percent in 2010.

Customer churn is still very low relative to other industries such as telecommunications, but the increasing propensity of customers to switch creates an opportunity for utility providers to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

"There is currently very little that differentiates one utility supplier from another in the view of the customer, so those who switch will likely base their decision solely on price," said Crawford-Browne. "Using incentives and rewards programmes may be helpful in capturing those customers who are seeking to switch. Utilities that become well-known for providing excellent customer service, for providing particularly clear, simple billing statements or for heavily promoting energy and cost savings plans may also generate more consumer interest."

The study also finds that the proportion of customers who have an online account with their energy provider has increased considerably year over year.

"By using online accounts, customers are able to become more engaged with their energy supplier and better understand their energy consumption," said Crawford-Browne.

The study, now in its 12th year, examines customer satisfaction with electricity and gas utility suppliers by examining six factors. For electricity suppliers, the factors are price and value; customer service; power quality and reliability; environmental responsibility; billing and payment; and meter reading. For gas suppliers, the factors are price and value; supply quality and reliability; customer service; environmental responsibility; billing and payment; and meter reading.

Electricity Supplier Rankings

Atlantic ranks highest among electricity suppliers with a score of 663, and performs particularly well in five of the six factors: price and value; customer service; power quality and reliability; billing and payment; and meter reading. Southern Electric (624) and E.ON (617) follow Atlantic in the segment rankings.