Year after year, electric cooperatives score higher than their utility counterparts in Touchstone Energy® Cooperative's Survey on the Cooperative Difference. Though 2020 had its fair share of challenges, the results of this year's survey was no exception. Here are five takeaways from the survey:
1. Co-ops actively measuring their performance provide superior service to members. The 47 co-ops taking part in the Touchstone Energy survey fared better than co-op's in ACSI's utility sector report for 2020. Co-ops continue to outperform the industry average as well as large, investor-owned utilities. Locally, WFEC has been surveying members for the past 20 years to determine member satisfaction, interest in programs and services, demographic information, communications preferences and much more. "In order to effectively communicate with our members we need to know them, know what they want and expect and know how they prefer us to communicate with them," said Terry Mullen Manager of Marketing and Communications.
2. Members are shifting their preference to digital communications. Increasingly, members are choosing to receive urgent and non-urgent communications by text or email. And as more members are moving to online billing to save money and reduce waste, co-ops should promote that option. WFEC offers the ability to make payments using our mobile app or by visiting our website. Payments may also be made over the phone using the automated phone system. The cooperative also offers the ability to text in outage reports or report outages using the mobile app or online.
3. Highlight "member" identity whenever possible, especially with new members. "People don't pick up that terminology when they first join a co-op," said Mullen. "The co-op tries to place effort into highlighting the cooperative difference because our members need to see examples of how the cooperative business model is different." WFEC is a member-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperative. Each member has a voice in how the cooperative is run. Members have the right to vote in each year's trustee election where they select fellow members to represent them and speak for them.
4. Co-ops serve a technologically diverse but increasingly tech-savvy membership. Because of this WFEC has elected to provide several valuable services to our members including the ability to select a pre-paid metering option (where members pay for the power they use in advance). This billing option allows WFEC members to save on deposits, monitor their energy usage more closely, and do business with the cooperative twenty-four hours a day. The ability to report outages using a text message communication is also easy and convenient for WFEC members. The system can also receive outage updates via text message. Another way the cooperative keeps members informed is by utilizing social media. Members can also sign up to receive alerts and reminders online as well as pay their bill, monitor their energy use and more.
5. Educate members on the benefits of electric vehicles. EVs haven't caught on quite yet in rural America, but there's still "above average interest" among new members and households with higher incomes and children. The cooperative has recently added a tremendous amount of educational and informative resources about electric vehicles to its website. Just visit www.westflorida.coop/electric-vehicles to find out more. These pages allow you to learn facts about electric vehicles, calculate potential savings, compare models, find out more about charging options, and explore offers and incentives. There's also a guide to public charging stations available if you already own an electric vehicle.
Surveys like this one on the cooperative difference keeps us connected to our members and provides valuable information that helps us communicate and serve them better in the future. Conducting surveys like this one is another way to give our membership a voice in their cooperative and that's what the cooperative difference is all about.