The connection between public safety and a utility’s brand is clear at the most fundamental level:
A utility provides information to keep its community safe, therefore it has done something good and provided a benefit, which also boosts its public image.
But the benefits of brand actually go much deeper than image. The seemingly intangible nature of brand can in fact be quantified and linked to financial advantages through public safety outreach.
Brand equity, the value that customers associate with your organization, is reflected through awareness, connections, experiences, and perceptions of quality and commitment. Over the years countless research studies have shown that customer satisfaction impacts the strength and favorability of the associations with brand. For utilities, that customer satisfaction is indelibly linked to public safety.
Today’s consumer is much more discerning than ever before. They’re actively involved in their world and its social issues including safety and stewardship. Therefore it’s essential for utilities to engage with them about safety issues in a meaningful way. According to industry analysts, “Utilities are doing a better job adding capabilities for proactive communication and upping their corporate citizenship but they are not keeping pace with those in a variety of other service industries, yet customers expect the same high level of service.”
Active engagement and proper messaging is especially important to satisfying customers and meeting their expectations around safety. For example, in our research conducted with thousands of at-risk workers nationwide, nine out of ten workers say that they expect utilities to communicate safety information. That statistic directly correlates to the perceptions that they have about their utility. Our data shows that workers whose expectations have been met through useful utility-sponsored safety education strongly believe that their utility is committed to safety.
We uncovered similar findings with other at-risk audiences like teachers and students. In our nationwide surveys, teachers say that they find utility safety education information useful. They actually commit significant classroom time to using these resources. Additionally, the vast majority of teachers who receive well-designed resources encourage students to take them home and share the information with family members (see Public Safety to Elementary Schools is a Sound Investment). This behavior exemplifies customer satisfaction and it spreads utility safety messages and goodwill, enhancing brand.
In order to achieve these sorts of results, utility public safety programs must be comprehensive and based upon research-driven continuous improvement. It’s essential that a utility understand the behaviors and preferences of its customers. This helps foster quality messaging that’s tailored to each of the target audiences—ensuring that they use the information, their expectations are met, their needs are satisfied, and the utility brand is enhanced.
So what are the benefits of satisfied customers and the resulting brand equity achieved through public safety? The key benefit of course is saved lives. Well-received safety information means an educated public and a decrease in utility-related accidents and related losses. But there are many other strategic business advantages that can be realized. Research confirms the following:
- There’s a direct relationship between the level of customer satisfaction and a utility’s net operating margin.
- There is a strong relationship between customer satisfaction and return on equity (ROE).
- Brand-level satisfaction scores are associated with the expediency and the time it takes to complete a rate case.
- Utilities with the highest proportions of satisfied customers received rate increases closer to their requests than did utilities with lower customer satisfaction scores.
- Customer satisfaction is one of the key variables used by rating agencies to assess risk, and ultimately, determine utility credit rating (i.e. there’s a correlation between regulatory risk and customer satisfaction).
Providing a strong financial performance for investors is a critical element in a utility’s ability to offer safe, reliable, and affordable power and stay competitive. It enables companies to invest in infrastructure upgrades, sophisticated business systems, and improved processes while also maintaining a productive relationship with stakeholders. Public safety is the linchpin to delivering these returns.
A study by PricewaterhouseCoopers concludes, “Investing in the customer experience can yield rewards as significant as investing in tangible assets, such as power plants and transmission lines.” Well-conceived and well-executed public safety programs designed to satisfy customer needs and increase brand equity, translate into significant business advantages. In short, an investment in public safety is an investment in brand. And, as the adage goes (and the data proves), for utilities, brand is everything.