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Georgia Gas Customers Up for Grabs

In Georgia's retail natural gas market about 15% of customers switched suppliers over the last year, and over the next 12 months another 15% will be in play, according to J.D. Power and Associates 2011 Georgia Retail Gas Provider Satisfaction Study.

In the 1990s Georgia was a leader among states in the push to open retail gas markets to competition. The state's gas utility market was deregulated and opened to competition in 1998 (see Daily GPI, Oct. 12, 1998). The early days of competition were marked by customer confusion (see Daily GPI, Aug. 12, 1999). Now about 1.5 million Georgia households are served by retail providers, according to to government figures.

The study looked at customer satisfaction with gas suppliers on price, billing and payment, communications, and customer service. Not surprisingly, less satisfied customers said they are more likely to switch providers.

"Although Georgia has a mature retail gas market, the fact that nearly one-third of customers are switching providers -- or contemplating switching -- indicates ample opportunity for improving customer satisfaction," said Chris Oberle, senior director of the energy practice at J.D. Power. "There is a clear connection between high levels of satisfaction and increased customer loyalty, both of which are essential for any Georgia gas retailer that wants to retain and grow its customer base."

According to the firm's study, Walton EMC ranked highest among retail gas providers in Georgia, achieving a score of 724 on a 1,000-point scale and performing well in all four factors. Following in the rankings were SCANA Energy (672) and Gas South (671). Overall satisfaction among Georgia retail customers averaged 667 in 2011. Customers are particularly satisfied with the customer service (728) and billing and payment (718) factors and are least satisfied with the communications factor (605).

Billing and payment satisfaction was highest among customers who pay their bills through a recurring credit card payment, compared with customers who use other payment methods, including payment through the retailer website, by automatic deduction from a bank account, through their bank's website or by mail.

Communications satisfaction was highest among customers who said they received between four and nine communications from their gas retailer during the past three months, compared with customers who received fewer than four or more than nine communications.

The study is based on responses from more than 1,800 customers received during April and May.

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