As we strive to achieve our vision to be the preferred and trusted provider of the energy our customers need, we recognize that customer expectations are growing. We are actively working to deliver new, innovative solutions and interactions designed to build a loyal and satisfied customer base, now and for the future.
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 work to improve all levels and points of service—whether a customer has just moved to our service area, is struggling to pay a bill or is experiencing a service outage. We are continually improving the systems, processes and people we have in place to manage different customer needs and circumstances.
As customer needs 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. That’s why we designed our website to work for all devices, including smart phones and tablets, and we continue to improve our Interactive Voice Response system to let customers conduct their business over the phone at any time of day. We also have customer agents available to translate more than 70 different languages.
We continue to focus on outage communications to make sure customers get the information they need, at times when they need it most, and in the communication channel they prefer. Our focus is on enrolling more customers in options to receive service notifications through text, email or a phone call and on improving the delivery of those options, while also improving our online outage map and other communication tools.
None of this work can be successful without the hard work of Xcel Energy employees. After all, they play a vital role in our customers’ experience through their everyday interactions and work on behalf of customers. We have efforts underway to train and raise awareness among our employees to ensure their focus is on customers and that they understand how their work supports an ever-better customer experience.
We monitor customer perceptions of the company and our performance through serval tools. Most notably, Xcel Energy is one of the first utilities in the country to track Net Promoter Score®, a leading indicator of loyalty for competitive industries. It asks customers one simple question, how likely they are to recommend Xcel Energy to others. We began using the measure in 2016 and are using the results to inform our customer strategy.
In addition, we continue to benchmark the relationships between Xcel Energy and our residential and small- to medium-sized business customers against industry peers in the J.D. Power & Associates Electric Utility Customer Satisfaction studies. For both the residential electric study and business study, we placed in the second quartile nationally in 2016, with customers providing positive feedback in the areas of reliable electricity service, efforts to develop energy supply plans for the future and actions to take care of the environment. In addition, residential customers gave Xcel Energy favorable ratings for involvement in local charities and civic organizations, while business customers rated us favorably for providing frequent updates and notices of new developments.
We also continue to demonstrate strong performance at our call centers. Through regular transactional surveys in 2016, more than 86 percent of customers reported that they were extremely satisfied with their call center transactions. More than 92 percent of customers reported their problem or issue was resolved on the first call to Xcel Energy.
Xcel Energy’s Education and Outreach program is designed to promote and encourage participation in the company’s energy efficiency and renewable programs. We do this by leveraging partnerships and sponsorships 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. The program won several marketing awards in 2016 but most importantly yielded more than 5,700 direct sign-ups to our energy efficiency and renewable programs. We gained exposure to more than four million people and generated nearly 30,000 targeted customer leads.
We continued to promote our award-winning digital video series This is How in 2016, which showcases how customers can save money and be more energy efficient through a variety of low-cost or no-cost home improvements. The series is available in tablet-based kiosks in major libraries across seven states and has been rolled out through a number of channels, including xcelenergy.com, Facebook and sponsorship partner websites. The concept is to try to catch customers and influence them as part of their daily routines—returning a library book, at intermission during a kids’ hockey game or picking up a light bulb at the hardware store. The videos are less than one-minute long, and can be sent via a text message to a customer’s cell phone to view again at home or on the go.
We also partnered with the Greater Twin Cities United Way to spotlight United Way programs and Xcel Energy’s support at 23 outreach events in 2016. In addition to raising awareness for United Way, we gained exposure to more than 500,000 customers at community events, increasing energy efficiency program signups about 11 percent when compared to the same events the previous year without the United Way partnership.
Also in 2016, we leveraged our partnership with the Minnesota Historical Society to offer a series of walking tours open to the public, including a guided tour of Xcel Energy’s Hennepin Island Hydro Generating Station that first started producing power in 1882. Guests on the tour were escorted through the power plant by Minnesota Historical Society tour guides, who shared their in-depth knowledge about the history and operation of the plant.
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 2016, we helped provide nearly $47.8 million to customer energy assistance programs throughout our service territory. Our support of energy assistance includes:
We disconnect service to customers only as a last resort when there are payment issues. We will usually shutoff service three to 10 days after the disconnection notice is sent if we are unable to resolve the issue or arrange a payment plan with the customer. In 2016, we disconnected service to a total of 79,671 customers. The majority of these customers are reconnected after they arrange payment plans or pay their bills in full. We typically send customers a reminder notice 33 days after their unpaid bill is due and a disconnection notice 64 days after the original due date. Heat-affected disconnects are not performed in our five Upper Midwest states during the heating season. In all states, our Customer Care leadership can decide to suspend disconnections during extreme weather or other emergency situations.
Xcel Energy has monitored scam activity reported by customers for several years. Scammers try various ways to trick customers into paying them money by threatening to turn off their service. All types of customers have been targeted, especially small business customers. After scam activity increased in 2014, we launched an awareness campaign and technology changes that have proven effective in protecting customers.
In 2016, we joined Utilities United Against Scams, a collaborative of more than 90 utilities across the United States. UUAS 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 bill in the U.S. Congress to create an annual scam awareness day, National Utilities United Against Scams Day, which takes place on the third Wednesday of November every year. Nov. 16, 2016 was the first UUAS Day and was covered by media outlets across the country, spreading awareness of scam techniques and how customers can protect themselves.
Our customers continue to lose fewer dollars to scammers than they did in 2014, when our formal scam awareness activities began. Last year, customer losses were down about 52 percent.
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