Many consumers have less money than they did a year ago, but they are happier about paying their natural gas utility bills, according to the new J.D. Power and Associates 2011 Gas Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study.

The study measures residential customer satisfaction with gas utility companies across six factors: billing and payment; price; corporate citizenship; communications; customer service; and field service. Overall satisfaction with gas utilities remained stable, averaging 627 on a 1,000-point scale in 2011, compared with 629 in 2010.

Nearly two in five customers (37%) said they are financially worse off in 2011 compared with 2010. Despite this, satisfaction with billing and payment and customer service from gas utilities improved notably, the survey firm said. Satisfaction with billing and payment increased to 718 in 2011 from 706 in 2010. Similarly, satisfaction with customer service improved to 720 in 2011 from 708 in 2010.

Within the billing factor, satisfaction increased most with the usefulness of information on bills and the amount of time customers are given to pay their bill. Within the customer service factor, satisfaction improved most notably with the ease of navigating customer service phone systems and the promptness in speaking to a person.

“Even during tough economic times, when many of their customers are facing financial hardships, there are concrete actions that gas utilities can take to mitigate losses in satisfaction,” said J.D. Power’s John Hazen, senior director of the energy practice. “Providing customers with the billing information they want in a format they can understand is vital, as is ensuring that payment timeline flexibility is offered to customers facing financial challenges.”

The study ranked large and midsize utility companies in four geographic regions: East, Midwest, South and West. The increase in satisfaction among customers continues from last year’s survey (see Daily GPI, Sept. 23, 2010).

Among large utilities in the East region, New Jersey Natural Gas ranked highest for a third consecutive year. Following in the segment rankings are UGI Utilities and National Fuel Gas. In the East region midsize segment, NSTAR Gas ranked highest, followed by Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania and Yankee Gas.

CenterPoint Energy-Midwest ranked highest among large utilities in the Midwest region, followed by MidAmerican Energy and Atmos Energy-Midwest. Among midsize utilities in this region, Omaha-based Metropolitan Utilities District and Citizens Gas each ranked highest in a tie. Metropolitan Utilities District ranked highest in the segment for a second consecutive year. Following in the segment rankings was Louisville Gas & Electric.

PSNC Energy ranked highest among large gas utilities in the South region, followed by Oklahoma Natural Gas and Texas Gas Service. Among midsize providers in this region, CPS Energy ranked highest for a second consecutive year. Following were TECO Peoples Gas, while South Carolina Electric & Gas and Virginia Natural Gas ranked third in a tie.

Southern California Gas Co. ranked highest among large utilities in the West region followed by NW Natural and Questar Gas. Among midsize providers in this region, Intermountain Gas Co. ranked highest, followed by Colorado Springs Utilities and Avista.

The study was based on more than 62,000 responses from residential customers of the 75 largest gas utilities across the continental United States. These utilities serve nearly 54 million households. The study was conducted between September 2010 and July 2011.

©Copyright 2011Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news reportmay not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in anyform, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.