The cooperative difference

I don’t think we realize how much we benefit from the internet and the communications services it provides. Not that many years ago, companies debated whether they should invest in having an online presence. I know that because I was involved in those conversations.

Today, you can go online to change your mobile phone’s data plan or increase the number of channels you receive from your broadband provider. You can start or stop services, and you can easily order everything from cat food to diapers — all conveniently delivered to your home in a few days (or even hours). Quite often, if you go to a company’s website, a dialogue box will pop up and allow you to order goods and services or make transactions in a chat exchange with an agent. Companies boast about how much they care about their customers, so they will go to any length to make things easier.

But have you ever tried to cancel any of those offerings?

Recently, I needed to cancel a couple of communications-related services. Unfortunately, neither of the two companies’ websites had an easy link for customers. I simply could not do this by email, text or chat. The only option was a voice conversation. Sounds easy enough, but they involved very lengthy conversations punctuated by long periods of time on hold. All told, I invested well over an hour of my time.

So much for making things easier for customers — though I was a departing customer.

I can appreciate that some actions require a conversation and many companies prefer a more personal interaction with their customers. Yet, this process seemed to be more about trying to convince me to change my mind or make it so painful that I would give up.

At cooperatives, we look at customers a bit differently. To begin with, we view you as what you truly are — member-owners and not customers. It is one of our founding principles, and it colors how we do our jobs. We’re happy to see you join the cooperative and sad to see you leave should you move away.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) is a measure of customer satisfaction. It is a well-respected national survey of the quality of products and services offered by foreign and domestic firms. It measures customer satisfaction on a scale of 0 to 100.

Electric cooperatives across the nation are evaluated by the ACSI and, quite frankly, we score very well. For years, we have been near the top of the rankings. Electric cooperatives led the energy sector in 2014-15 with a score of 81. (For comparison, Apple scored an 80.)

According to ACSI, “Across all 43 industries measured by the ACSI, electric co-ops have the 10th highest customer satisfaction score.”

It makes a difference when you’re treated like a member-owner and not just a customer. The lineman, the engineer and the member service representative view you as much more than a source of revenue. They work for you. The cooperative difference shows up in their commitment to their jobs, and it shows in how cooperative members rate them.

How do the communications companies I dealt with compare? I won’t “name names,” but their 2015 ACSI scores were near the bottom of nationally known companies. Their individual scores were 68 and 69.

From my personal experience, I think their survey scores might have been overly generous.

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