Despite a 14% increase in average residential gas utility rates, a survey by J. D. Power and Associates found that customers satisfaction among the nation’s largest gas utilities is unchanged from 2003.

“What we find most positive about the 2004 study is that while satisfaction with overall bill amounts has declined, this was offset by gas utilities’ focus on the needs of their customers,” said Alan Destribats, executive director of the utility practice at J.D. Power and Associates. “Gas utility customers have registered significantly higher levels of satisfaction with their utility’s ability to help them reduce their bills and provide a variety of services and payment options to help deal with the higher costs.”

The 2004 Gas Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study is based on more than 11,000 telephone interviews with residential gas customers. The responses were collected during March and June 2004. The study measures customer satisfaction in four regions of the country on five key factors (in order of importance): company image, price and value, billing and payment, customer service, and field service.

Among other things, the study found that most gas utilities perform well in the areas of being well managed and providing a good value for the amount customers pay for service. “Gas service providers continue to have a premier position in consumers’ minds, with almost 90% saying their gas utility meets or exceeds their expectations,” said Destribats.

UGI ranked highest in customer satisfaction in the East Region for the second consecutive year, with the highest regional scores in company image, price and value, and billing and payment. New Jersey Natural Gas was a close second and Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania, Washington Gas Light, Niagara Mohawk Power, Baltimore Gas & Electric, Public Service Electric & Gas, South Jersey Gas, and KeySpan also performed well.

In the Midwest, Citizens Gas & Coke Utility ranked highest, achieving a three-point increase over 2003. Tied for second were CenterPoint Energy-Minnegasco, which scored highest in billing and payment, customer service and field service, and MidAmerican Energy, which posted the highest score in company image. Also performing well were Louisville Gas & Electric, Aquila, Cincinnati Gas & Electric, Illinois Power, Laclede Gas and We Energies.

In the South, Alagasco was the top company, repeating its performance from the 2002 study, followed by Atmos Energy-Louisiana. Also performing well were CenterPoint Energy-Entex, City Public Service (San Antonio) and Texas Gas Service.

In the West. Southern California Gas ranked highest followed by Northwest Natural. Southwest Gas, which ranked highest in the region in 2003, also performed well in the 2004 study.

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