AEP's line crews are a front line point of contact for our customers. The customer experience is a high priority for AEP.
Customers judge their experience with any company in terms of cost, quality and service. They also measure value by how well a company responds when something goes wrong. Demonstrating that we care about our customers in every interaction we have with them is the hallmark of a positive customer experience. Providing reliable, quality, affordable service is just the beginning. We have to understand and anticipate what our customers want and be ready to meet those expectations. If we do it right, the payback for AEP is brand loyalty and a high degree of satisfaction for our customers.
The customer experience encompasses every touch point we have with our customers, whether on the phone, with a line crew in the field, through billing and online transactions, or through the interactions our employees have while serving in the community. It is one of AEP’s main areas of focus and because it is a high priority for us, we are committed to improving customer satisfaction.
Customer satisfaction surveys show us that we are not at the level we want to be yet. One thing we do know is that technology and information are fundamental to customer satisfaction. We have action-oriented, measurable customer experience work plans for each of our operating companies that are designed to help us prioritize the actions we can take that are most valuable to our customers. These actions include new and enhanced technology solutions, targeted communication and education efforts, and improved product offerings, such as energy efficiency and home warranty programs where applicable. We plan to invest the majority of our capital budget over the next three years in our regulated operations to improve reliability and safety to enhance the customer experience.
Communicating with Customers
As part of the customer experience work plan, AEP launched mobile customer outage alerts in March 2015 to its more than 5 million customers. Approximately 69 percent of AEP’s residential customers and 77 percent of commercial customers have indicated interest in signing up for severe weather and outage-related mobile alerts. Yet, in late 2014, less than half of the North American utilities in a recent survey offered these options to customers. It is anticipated that these proactive actions will drive improved customer satisfaction as enrollment grows. We also improved our outage assessment capabilities to enable us to gather more accurate and timely data collection in the field, allowing us to provide that information in a timely manner to our customers.
Customers also want greater mobility – they want to be able to access their bill and service information at any time, from any location, on any device. Customers find communications from their utility over digital channels (utility blogs, social media, text messages and websites) more satisfying than traditional media. In response, AEP launched a redesigned customer website pilot for smartphones and tablets in 2014. Customers are able to access and pay their bill, start and stop service, and report an outage from any mobile device. In addition, customers will be able to sign-up for billing alerts in mid-2015. This instant access improves customer convenience and promotes AEP’s strategy to leverage mobile technology.
We continue to see an increase in customers relying on technology to communicate with us and vice versa. About 48 percent of customers have shared their email address with us in 2014, an increase from 44 percent in 2013. We have also seen a slight increase in paperless billing with about 22 percent enrolled in 2014, compared to 18 percent in 2013.
In 2014, customers conducted approximately 18 million online transactions, or an 18 percent increase with us, and web traffic also increased for both desktop and mobile users. Approximately 938,271 residential, commercial and industrial customers receive their bills electronically. At the end of 2014, 47 percent of customer bill payments were being processed online and electronically. Online bill pay and electronic billing is a win-win for us and our customers; it is more efficient and eco-friendly and enhances customer satisfaction.
AEP prides itself on quick, responsive and consistent customer service. In 2014, our Customer Operations Centers handled just over 22 million calls, a slight increase from 2013 levels, with an Average Speed of Answer of only 81 seconds.
In addition to self-service options available on the web and over the phone, we are dedicated to providing customers with access to professional, friendly and competent customer operations associates to answer their call in a timely and efficient manner. We constantly strive to improve the customer experience by reducing the amount of effort the customer must exert when doing business with us. In recognition of our continued efforts, AEP’s Customer Operations Centers were awarded the Certification of Excellence in 2014 for a sixth time by Benchmark Portal, a global leader in contact center benchmarking, certification, training and consulting. The certification recognizes the achievement of high productivity, low cost and excellent service.
Measures of Success
In 2014, Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO) was named a Customer Champion by Market Strategies International (MSI) for superior performance in MSI/Cogent Reports’ 2014 Utility Trusted Brand & Customer Engagement study – ranking sixth among electric utilities that were surveyed in the United States. The study was based on in-depth responses from 40,000 residential customers from 127 leading U.S. electric and natural gas companies. To achieve the champion status, utilities had to be industry leaders in building customer trust, achieving operational excellence and offering value-added products and services. It’s this type of performance that creates value for our customers and AEP.
For the third year in a row, AEP ranked as one of the top-rated utility website in the J.D. Power 2015 Utility Website Evaluation StudySM (UWES). Among the 66 utility companies included in the study, AEP was one of the two top-ranked utility companies in overall ease of use of utility websites. The UWES is based on website evaluations from more than 14,500 electric and/or gas residential customers and this year combined mobile enabled/app and desktop/laptop/tablet into one index. Companies are ranked on a scale of 1 to 500; AEP tied with OG&E Energy Corp., both scoring 438.