For many consumers, the monthly electric bill is the primary – or only – routine touchpoint with their electricity providers. Given this significant role in the utility-customer relationship, how do residential customers truly feel about their bills and how do these perceptions impact what they think about their electricity providers?
To dig deeper into this area, the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC) recently conducted a 20-minute online survey of 2,013 Americans who are responsible for making energy-related decisions at home. The survey sample was representative of the U.S. population in terms of age, gender, income and geography.
The resulting report details consumers’ attitudes about their monthly electric bills, their thoughts on bills as a starting place for saving energy, their awareness of the factors that impact their bills, their understanding of the various terms on their bills and more. (The report also investigated electric rate plans, which will be covered in a future blog.)
Here are three major findings from report that demonstrate what today’s consumers think about their electric bills:
1. Most consumers have difficulty understanding their bills.
In the online survey, consumers were asked to state whether they agree or disagree (moderately or strongly) with several different statements about their electric bills. The results of this exercise demonstrate that most consumers have difficulty fully understand their bills.
Fifty-six percent of all consumers agreed that they wished their electric bills were easier to understand, and 59 percent agreed that it sometimes seems like parts of their bills are written in another language.
However, there is notable variation between SECC’s five consumer segments. The Connected Pragmatists – a younger segment that is tech-savvy but isn’t active in energy management yet – seems to struggle more with their bills: 74 percent stated that parts of their bills seem to be written in another language.
Two-thirds of Connected Pragmatists also feel that “most of what is included in an electricity bill is just there to confuse you” and distract from the amount due, while this percentage is closer to one-third for the other four segments.
2. Consumers acknowledge that their bills can help them start saving energy.
The survey also asked consumers whether they agree or disagree with several statements about whether the information included on their bills can be valuable in helping them save energy at home, and most consumers – though with more variation between segments this time – believe their bills can be useful in this way.
Seventy-two percent of all consumers stated they like checking their bills to see if they’ve been able to save energy that month, ranging from 82 percent of Green Pioneers to just 37 percent of Comfort Seekers agreeing with this statement. The Comfort Seekers – the smallest segment at just 12 percent of the U.S. population – are generally not concerned with saving energy at home and prefer to focus on their personal comfort and convenience.
Further, two-thirds (66 percent) of respondents agreed their electric bills provide them insights on how they can reduce their home energy consumption. While less than half of Comfort Seekers (45 percent) agreed, the majority of the other four segments agreed, including 77 percent of the Connected Pragmatists and 73 percent of the Green Pioneers.
3. Some consumers only look at how much they owe and by when.
Finally, the survey findings also revealed that while many consumers read their bills and look for ways to save energy, significant proportions of consumers in each segment only look at the amount due and the due date, which has important implications for using bills to educate and inform customers.
Seventy percent of the Connected Pragmatists approach their bills in this manner. As we found in the “Consumer Pulse and Market Segmentation – Wave 8” report, these consumers have the potential to be highly engaged customers, especially for tech-driven programs; however, providers will likely need to find another manner to engage them rather than information on the bill or bill inserts.
However, significant numbers of Green Pioneers (40 percent) and Simply Sustainable consumers (49 percent) also report they only focus on the amount due and due date, which can significantly hamper education efforts via bills. Any information being provided on the bill will likely be missed by a significant portion of the customer base.
With bills holding such a unique place in the utility-customer relationship, it’s important that electricity providers understand what consumers’ interests and concerns regarding their bills and optimize the information accordingly.
To learn more about what today’s consumers think about their electric bills and more, download SECC’s “Electric Bills and Rate Plans: Consumer Awareness and Understanding” report here.