Though United Continuously Scores High on ACSI®,
Each Response Helps Improve Service
When it comes to hearing from members about their service experience, United never wants to miss an opportunity to learn where it can improve. And member satisfaction surveys play an important role in that interaction and in helping the cooperative tighten consistency in providing unsurpassed member service experiences.
The co-op hasn’t yet hit the bullseye in that target, but there’s more than a few holes around the edges, and aim is constantly being adjusted.
Members gave the cooperative an 89 for the third consecutive quarter in the 2018 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI®), which set United’s average for the past four quarters at 90. The latest survey mark was four points higher than any posted among a national benchmark comparison group of 42 electric cooperatives, and well above the highest performing investor-owned utility, which didn’t reach an 80s threshold. The national survey also reflected consumer satisfaction levels across the nation dipped uniformly during the period, as represented in a trend analysis of 180 different participating industries, including electric utilities.
While survey scoring provides a basis for further comparison to industry trends, as well as for providing a timely member assessment of United’s ongoing service goals, the cooperative utilizes the quarterly snapshots for a great deal more than potential “dean’s list” moments.
“Everyone likes to get a good report card and United employees are no different,” United CEO Cameron Smallwood said. “Report cards measure the quality of work that is done, and I appreciate the fact our members continue to recognize the focus and determination our employees have in trying to provide a brand of service that can’t be found anywhere else. But our employees know, I know and our members know that no matter what grade they earn each quarter in the ACSI®, we can always find ways to improve. And while the good grades mean a lot, satisfaction surveys have always been more about what we may be missing than what we have done.
“Feedback means everything to us, and member satisfaction surveys serve as another communications avenue to engage our members and find out how we can be more responsive in our service,” he said. “We are fortunate to have a membership that trusts us and recognizes our effort, which I think is indicated in our consistently high satisfaction scores. But to continue to earn our members’ trust, we have to keep raising the bar in setting the gold standard for superior service.”
In contrast to consumer service surveys that are in some cases contrived by companies for their own benefit and convenience, and for the purpose of eliciting a predicted response, United’s member surveys are administered through independent third-party review to obtain members’ unvarnished perspectives about the service quality they receive. Further, the surveys augment the cooperative’s continuing internal appraisal of service objectives and ideals in some of the following ways:
THEY GATHER NO MOSS—Member surveys are treated as actionable items rather than trivial pursuits. Since they are evaluated as soon as they are received, the cooperative is able to respond to concerns more quickly to determine where operational adjustments may be necessary. In addition, the telephone surveys offer additional member engagement opportunities that are vital to the co-op when face-to-face communication is made more difficult due to busy schedules and lifestyle constraints.
THE RESULTS ARE IN—United is conscious of the fact “survey fatigue” is real among consumers today, and the cooperative has never wished to put the SurveyMonkey on any member’s back. In that vein, the company has sought to keep the ACSI® in bounds by limiting the survey to 20 meaningful questions. Nevertheless, members who agree to participate still invest their time—which is appreciated, because it helps their cooperative improve its service to them and other members. What good is a survey if respondents never get to hear the results? Reporting each quarter’s survey results demonstrates the cooperative’s interest in informing members about where their co-op has been and where it’s going, and why and how it uses various resources to measure service performance.
PUTTING MORE EYES ON IT—United employees are naturally attuned to be more critical and aware of operational standards that don’t live up to United’s expectations. Every company service goal and achievement is built on measurement and fulfillment of superior service expectations. Even so, attentive members have sometimes voiced concerns or suggested improvements through the survey process that may have been missed. Questions raised in surveys are very often solutions in the making.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE—Member satisfaction surveys, along with a variety of other member engagement tools and venues, could be considered literal and figurative examples of United’s challenge to those who subscribe to the widely endorsed notion that consumers in a captive market, or a single-certified service territory such as United’s, can’t enjoy lower rates, better service value, delivery and reliability than what is offered to consumers in retail choice markets. United members today may not have a choice in who their electric provider is, but the cooperative has thus far been able to validate its sole purpose to deliver exceptional service and value to its membership by besting most electric utilities in competitive rates, operational efficiencies, service reliability, safety and member satisfaction. Surveys essentially provide a running member consensus about the service value, cost and reliability that are components of cooperative membership.
“We are different from most businesses because we serve a special business model—the cooperative business model,” Smallwood said. “We are only here to serve our member-owners to the best of our ability, and we spend all day, every day polishing our methods in proactively shaping our members’ service experiences and journeys with us. We truly seek every opportunity available to us to hear our members’ viewpoints, and the surveys are an immense help to us when those conversations can’t happen in person.”