MGE stepping up efforts to understand what customers want

Madison Gas & Electric is stepping up efforts to understand the changing expectations of customers.

Don Peterson, assistant vice president of strategic products and services at MGE, says reaching millennials is a big part of that push and presents its own challenges. He spoke yesterday at the Customer First Coalition’s Power Breakfast event in Madison.

“We have developed some more innovative ways of getting to that crowd,” he said. “And we actually did some ‘man on the street’ kinds of things where we went to Union South with an iPad, flagged down students, made them take their earbuds out of their ears and talk to us.”

As part of the effort to better understand consumer wants and needs, MGE has begun the process of journey mapping — a method of exploring standard processes for customers like submitting a complaint or getting a new meter installed.

He says MGE looks at these situations through the eyes of the customer, examining the steps they have to go through to get the issue resolved.

“That journey mapping really uncovers a lot of things that maybe we don’t even know about our processes,” he said. “You can find a lot of inefficiencies, and you can find a lot of areas for improvement.”

After doing the journey mapping process, the utility tested some of the ideas that arose. They sent out over 5,000 surveys through email and in the mail, and had a response rate of about 22 percent.

But in breaking down the data by demographics, the response rate varied widely by age. The return rate for customers 25 and under was between 5 percent and 10 percent, and the return rate for customers over 65 was between 70 percent and 80 percent.

“So that told us something, that we need to do a deeper dive,” he said, adding the company is conducting more detailed customer research in partnership with Clean Wisconsin and the Citizens Utility Board of Wisconsin.

“We used focus groups to help us set some questions that we were then going to follow up with a more statistically valid survey mechanism,” he said. “We basically started that survey in October of last year, and we just finished the survey yesterday.”

The utility is still in the process of analyzing the information gathered by that survey and the in-person interviews. But Peterson says the journey mapping process has yielded some insight already.

“The thing that we’re hearing loud and clear from customer is they want more control over their energy usage, and they want more information about their energy usage,” he said. “We’re being compared as the utility industry to a lot of other experiences that customers have.”

He says customers want to see their energy use stats, similar to how some cell phone plans notify users when they’re nearing the limit of their allotted minutes.

“They would like to be able to be told if they’re going over, or they’d like to be able to have some app or something that would basically warn them if they’re using too much energy,” he said.

–By Alex Moe