Jamie Smith Hopkins
1:50 PM EDT, May 1, 2013
What do you think of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and its parent, Exelon Corp.?
Some companies survey customers to find out. Results are mixed.
J.D. Power and Associates' most recent survey -- for 2012 -- shows BGE with a roughly average score for large utilities in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, but substantially below average overall.
BGE's 598 score for customer satisfaction among electric residential customers, on a 1,000-point scale, ranked it below 109 of the 126 utilities the marketing-information firm surveyed. Among gas customers, BGE's score -- 617 -- ranked it below 55 of the 75 utilities surveyed.
The American Customer Satisfaction Index, meanwhile, tracks large utility companies and has a score for Chicago-based Exelon.
The index for the first quarter of this year puts Exelon's score at 74 on a 100-point scale, in the bottom quartile of the 25 largest investor-owned utility companies. (The survey company says differences of less than 3 points are within the margin of error, so there's some wiggle room in the ranking.)
Exelon has lagged the index average ever since it hit the charts in 2001. But its first-quarter score is its highest yet and -- as Exelon was quick to point out -- represents a bigger year-over-year improvement than the industry average.
"Exelon's model benefits customers because it allows us to share operational expertise and best practices across our three utilities, and we have seen evidence of that in the past year as customer satisfaction scores at ComEd, PECO and BGE have steadily improved," said Paul Adams, an Exelon spokesman.
J.D. Power's 2012 surveys suggest that Philadelphia-based PECO is the top performer of the Exelon utility family and ComEd of Chicago is the laggard. Among electricity customers, PECO's 626 score ranks it second from the top among large Northeast and Mid-Atlantic utilities, while ComEd's 579 score puts it dead last among big Midwestern providers.
(One of the highest scorers in the electric category, regardless of size and location: Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, at 675. One of the lowest: Pepco, the Washington-area utility.)
BGE spokesman Robert L. Gould said in an interview that the company doesn't have much "insight" into the J.D. Power methodology. That survey is conducted online, rather than by telephone, and has no publicly disclosed margin of error. There's also a lag -- the 2012 electrical-customer survey was conducted from July 2011 through May 2012.
BGE uses Market Strategies International to do customer-satisfaction surveys for its own internal use, polling 400 residential customers and 250 small to midsized business customers each quarter. Gould said those results show gains since the steep rise in rates spread over 2006 and 2007 enraged consumers.
Since the beginning of 2009, "we've really begun to see a pretty significant upward trajectory," he said.
In 2008, BGE's internal surveys showed it was in the fourth quartile compared with industry peers. Now it's in the second quartile, just shy of crossing over into the first, Gould said.
Reported satisfaction dipped after Hurricane Irene in 2011, but rose throughout 2012 -- despite widespread (and long-lasting) power outages from the surprise derecho windstorm last summer and more outages from "superstorm" Sandy in October.
That might not be what you'd expect, given that the American Customer Satisfaction Index has found that rough weather and frustration over outages dings scores. Gould said BGE was surprised by the continued increases in reported satisfaction through a bad weather year, but he suggested that customers outraged by BGE's derecho performance were outnumbered by those who weren't.
"There was a fairly large subset of customers who understood this was an event of extreme proportions ... and there really wasn't time to prepare," he said.
So what do you think of Exelon and BGE? Let me know at email@example.com.
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