Each and every time our customers engage with us, we want to make it easy for them and deliver a positive, best-in-class experience. We continue to improve all levels and points of service whether a customer is new to our service area, struggling to pay a bill or experiencing a service outage. We are constantly managing the systems, processes and people we have in place to meet different customer needs and circumstances.
As customer requirements evolve, one thing we know is that customers want convenience. They should be able to pick the time and place that works for them to do business with us. We launched a mobile app in 2017 that lets customers easily access their accounts, view and pay their bills and receive outage information, whenever they need it. By the end of last year, the app was downloaded more than 160,000 times, exceeding expectations. In addition to app downloads and positive customer reviews, the industry research and intelligence group, E Source, recognized Xcel Energy with an Innovation in Customer Design Award for the project’s customer centricity.
One key function of the app is the ability to easily report outages. We recognize that for customers an outage can feel like an uncontrollable situation, and it’s a time when they need us most. To help empower customers, we continue to focus on outage communications to provide accurate and timely information. We have a new Storm Center on our website with better outage maps, and by the end of 2017, had enrolled more than 3.2 million customers to receive email and text notifications during outages — ten times the customers enrolled compared to 2016. Our efforts are clearly paying off. Xcel Energy was recognized with a 2017 Best Practices for Outage Communications Award from Chartwell, a company that provides information services to the utility industry. Most importantly, customer perceptions of our outage communications have improved to a level that surpasses nearly 20 of our industry peers.
As we look to the future, we will continue to deliver on the fundamentals, providing reliable energy at an affordable price while also enhancing the customer experience and making sure our customers know how important they are. To earn our customers’ trust and become their preferred energy provider, we must always put the customer first and continue sharing our energy expertise to help them reach their goals. Our employees play an important role in achieving this through their daily interactions. That’s why through training and other initiatives we continue to foster a culture where all employees take ownership in ensuring a dependable, easy, enjoyable and personal experience for our customers.
Xcel Energy’s online store started small, but continues to grow. After launching as a pilot several years ago, the Xcel Energy Store expanded in 2017 to continue connecting customers with energy-saving products and services. Customers can buy products that offer rebates, sign up for Home Energy Squad visits and much more.
“Through the online store, we can connect our customers with products that provide convenience and comfort while also helping them manage their energy costs and keep bills low,” said Colin Lamb, team lead, Product Strategy and Development for Xcel Energy. “It positions Xcel Energy as a partner and provides one more way to enhance the customer experience.
”Through easy-to-access buyer’s guides, customers can find products through the store that fit their lifestyles and needs. For example, customers who prefer a certain showerhead finish can browse the selection from their mobile devices or personal computers, sort by price and popularity and see a variety of product offerings by category type. That more personalized experience is resonating with customers, with about $1 million in sales since the store expanded.
Smart thermostats that include rebate offers are the top seller with more than 3,000 units sold in 2017. These thermostat sales also help drive enrollments in AC Rewards, Xcel Energy’s new residential demand response program. At the same time, the company continues to improve the AC Rewards website and enrollment process based on learnings from the online store.
In addition, plenty of products have been sold without rebate offers. About 25 percent of sales in 2017 were for non-rebated items, including smart smoke detectors, rechargeable batteries and small items such as flashlights, which were popular during the holiday shopping season.
“Looking forward, Xcel Energy is now positioned as a leader in this rapidly evolving space of online marketplaces,” added Lamb. “We plan to continue finding new ways to use the online store as a tool to support customer engagement and develop the customer relationship of the future.”
One of the most basic customer requirements and a key priority for Xcel Energy is keeping energy bills low. Over the past five years, the average Xcel Energy residential customer bill has actually gone down, even as we have continued to invest in a cleaner and more advanced energy grid. That’s because we constantly seek ways to improve productivity and reduce our costs while also offering customers a comprehensive portfolio of programs to help them manage their energy use and take control of their bills.
Based on EIA data: represents Xcel Energy annual average of monthly bills, excluding taxes and franchise fees.
Xcel Energy’s Education and Outreach program is designed to promote and encourage participation in the company’s energy efficiency and renewable choice programs. We leverage our partnerships and sponsorships as opportunities to meet customers in the communities where they live and provide information in a compelling way. By attending local community and sporting events, we facilitate one-on-one interactions that give customers a better understanding of who we are, what we do and how we can improve their lives. In 2017, we gained exposure to nearly four million people and generated nearly 17,600 targeted customer leads, resulting in more than 4,300 direct sign-ups to our energy efficiency and renewable programs.
Our most significant sponsorship is with the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. Every year this multipurpose arena hosts more than 150 sporting and entertainment events for 1.7 million visitors, providing a highly visible opportunity for Xcel Energy to reach customers with energy information. For 2017, our older display space was upgraded with more interactive experiences. We installed an engaging phone charging station and built the Xcel Energy Warming House that includes the Puck-O-Matic puck maker. Fans can create custom pucks and the proceeds benefit the Salvation Army HeatShare program. In its first season, the Puck-O-Matic helped reach more people with our energy information and earned several marketing awards. Most importantly, it sold nearly 180 pucks, raising about $9,000 to help HeatShare provide emergency energy assistance.
We also unveiled our Xcel Energy tiny houses at several Earth Day events in 2017. These small, novelty homes are outfitted with solar panels and energy-saving products, such as LED lighting, programmable thermostats, low-flow shower heads and much more. Throughout the year, the houses traveled to 36 events in Minnesota and Colorado, helping to educate customers on the low- and no-cost ways to make their homes more energy efficient and promote programs like Xcel Energy’s Home Energy Squad®.
Finally, our most successful sponsorships for the year happened during June 2017 in conjunction with national Pride Month. By attending a number of events, we demonstrated our commitment to the community and energy efficiency, as well as diversity and inclusion. The events exceeded our goals in terms of attendance, signups and overall positive engagements.
We work with state and local agencies and advocates for low-income customers to provide energy assistance to those in need. Our Personal Accounts department helps to monitor and assist customer accounts where medical needs are present, provide services that promote the efficient use of energy, while making energy bills more affordable to income-qualified families through payment plans and energy assistance programs.
In 2017, we provided $59.5 million to customer energy assistance programs that helped about 130,000 individuals and families throughout our service territory. This support of energy assistance includes:
We established a new Medical Affordability Program in 2017 for our Minnesota electricity customers, similar to the Medical Exemption Program we offer in Colorado. The state public utilities commission approved the program, which was developed in partnership with the Energy CENTS Coalition, a community-based organization that promotes more affordable utility service for low-income Minnesotans with special medical needs. Qualifying customers make a monthly income-based payment in exchange for the discount and potential assistance with past-due accounts. We expect the program to reach about 1,000 residential customers in the state.
In addition to these programs, we work with customers who have difficulty paying their energy bills and encourage them to contact us to develop a payment plan and determine if additional assistance is available. We only disconnect service as a last resort if we are unable to resolve the issue or arrange a payment plan. For customers behind on their payments, we typically send a reminder notice 33 days after the unpaid bill is due and a disconnection notice 64 days after the original due date. In 2017, we disconnected service to a total of 75,685 customers. The majority of these customers were reconnected after they arranged payment plans or paid their bills in full. Heat-affected disconnections are not performed in our five Upper Midwest states during the heating season. In each of our states, our Customer Care leadership has the authority to suspend disconnections during extreme weather or other emergency situations.
We continue to monitor scam activity and help inform and protect our customers. While all types of scams have become more common, our customer losses are down by more than half since our formal scam awareness efforts began.
Scam activity first increased in 2014, targeted at all customers, especially business customers. We launched an awareness campaign and made technology changes that have proven effective at protecting customers. Thanks to the reports of customers, we’re also able to track both in-person and phone-based scam attempts. This data is used in partnership with law enforcement to investigate possible larger scam efforts and trends across our territory, with the ultimate goal of shutting down scammers that attack our customers and others.
In 2016, we joined Utilities United Against Scams, a collaborative of more than 90 utilities across the United States. Members share leading practices and updates about how scams are affecting their customers, as well as ideas and updates on what they’re doing to spread awareness. In its first year, the group introduced a national bill to establish an awareness day — National Utilities United Against Scams Day — which takes place on the third Wednesday each November.
The organization continued to strengthen its ability to address scams in 2017, creating an executive committee that includes an Xcel Energy representative, as well as several task groups focused on specific anti-scam efforts. It also established partnerships with outside companies like Somos, which manages toll-free numbers. Working with Somos since March 2017, we have shut down more than 1,000 toll-free numbers used by scammers to trick customers.
We monitor customer perceptions of the company and our performance through several tools. The two most notable are the J.D. Power & Associates Electric Utility Customer Satisfaction studies and the customer transactional satisfaction studies that we implement with our partner, MaritzCX.
J.D. Power & Associates implements an industry-wide benchmark that provides details of the relationship Xcel Energy has with its residential and small- to medium-sized business customers and how that compares to industry peers. For the residential electric study, we placed in the second quartile nationally in 2017. Residential customers provided the most positive feedback in the areas of reliable electricity service, efforts to develop energy supply plans for the future and total monthly cost of electric service. With business customers, Xcel Energy ranked in the third quartile nationally in 2017. We received the highest scores for reliable electric service and scored favorably for actions to take care of the environment.
We also continue to demonstrate strong performance at our Customer Contact Centers. Through regular transactional surveys in 2017, more than 85 percent of residential and business customers reported that they were satisfied with their contact center transactions. More than 86 percent of customers reported their problem or issue was resolved on the first call to Xcel Energy. Our Customer Care organization sets annual goals with satisfaction and first call resolution, and we successfully met our goals in 2017 for both metrics.
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