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LIPA scores low on customer satisfaction

A new survey shows LIPA ratepayers are among

A new survey shows LIPA ratepayers are among the least satisfied customers. Photo Credit: Ed Betz, 2011

Long Island Power Authority ratepayers are among the least satisfied customers compared with those from a broad array of nationally known product and service providers, according to a new survey.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index, to be released Tuesday, gave LIPA 58 out of 100 points -- the second lowest of any company in a survey that covers cellphone providers, computer makers, utilities and airlines, among others.

More than 225 companies, from Apple Computer to Con Edison, are ranked in the survey. Only Delta Air Lines scored worse than LIPA, with 56 points, according to ACSI. LIPA's score last year was 65.

LIPA's decline came despite the fact that customer satisfaction with utilities overall rose 2.7 percent in the survey.

David VanAmburg, managing director of the ACSI , said two factors worked against LIPA: Tropical Storm Irene, which knocked out power to half of LIPA's customers, and generally high electric rates. LIPA scored lowest of all utilities surveyed, including three other municipal utilities.

"Whenever a utility is slammed hard with issues in getting power back quickly, that's going to have a big negative impact on customer evaluations," VanAmburg said. "The worst recipe for a utility is higher-than-average rates and lower than average reliability."

LIPA, which cut rates twice this year, discounted the survey as limited in scope.

"This survey, which only includes three other municipal electric utilities, all with lower prices, is heavily weighted toward price, and does not take into account the recent [LIPA] price drop which was welcomed by LIPA's customers," spokesman Mark Gross said. "We at LIPA are working across the company to improve our customers' satisfaction."

H.J. Heinz, Clorox and Apple were among the highest scoring companies, with ratings of 89, 88 and 87, respectively.

PSEG, the company that will take over the contract to manage the LIPA electric grid in 2014, scored 77.

LIPA's 58 points represents an 11 percent drop from last year, when it was among the worst-ranked utilities. Last year, only Pepco Holdings, another utility, scored worse than LIPA, with a 54.

VanAmburg said outages during storms tend to stay with a utility well after the impact. Tropical Storm Irene was last August. "If they get slammed once [for outages], that's what's going to stick in customers' minds," he said.

VanAmburg said LIPA's recent moves to switch the contract to manage the electric grid to PSEG from National Grid, and to lower rates in April, could help raise next year's score.

The other low scorer among utilities, Northeast Utilities of Connecticut, which ranked a 59, also was affected by weather-related outages last year.

The survey is only the latest to show LIPA with low customer satisfaction scores.

In February, J.D. Power and Associates reported LIPA dropped to 11th place among 12 large eastern utilities. Nationally, LIPA ranked 90th among 95 utilities that were graded by J.D. Power.

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