Sonya Dixon, Communication and Public Relations Specialist at OMU, spoke to the City Utility Commission in a special meeting on Thursday, September 6. Dixon discussed OMU’s Stakeholder Communication Plan and Customer Survey Report, which determined a not-so-surprising trend: Owensboro OMU customers are utilizing the internet more for bill payments, information, and updates.
Dixon said OMU has been utilizing the internet more themselves over the last year. Communication tools used by the company included media (radio, online, TV, and print), and Dixon said they’d expanded their use of communication via online news sources. Other communication tools used by OMU included web presence, community involvement, as well as an Other category.
According to statistics, customers in Owensboro still use the newspaper as the leading method to learn about OMU. However, Dixon said online sources were quickly increasing in popularity, and that more people were learning about OMU through online sources more than ever in the past.
“The gap is narrowing between online use and the newspaper,” said Dixon. She added that OMU customers had downloaded the OMU app 1,000 times in the year between August 2017 and 2018.
Accordingly, Facebook growth has popularized over the last year. Between August 2017 and 2018, Facebook growth increased 174 percent for OMU customers. Text outages growth increased by 161.8 percent, while Twitter growth increased by 179.3 percent.
Albeit OMU’s recent water rate increase, numbers are looking good for the utility company for the fiscal year between June 1, 2017-May 31, 2018. They earned a 93 percent overall satisfaction rating (combining water and electric components), which is considered a great score for any utility company. However, the survey was conducted before the water rate increases were established.
Dixon says OMU hires two outside companies to conduct the surveys and compile the results. Comer Research and Oppenheim Research work with co-ops and municipal utilities to conduct customer satisfaction surveys.
OMU is a municipal utility–this means they do not earn a profit from rate increases, nor are they owned by the customers. Instead, OMU is owned by the city of Owensboro. Dixon says OMU does not pay shareholders and reiterated that the company doesn’t earn any kind of profit, and never has, contrary to widespread belief in Owensboro.
“We only ask for the dollars we need to get the services to customers that are needed,” says Dixon. Dixon added that the city of Owensboro has to approve any rates raised by OMU and that OMU does not make the final decisions on whether or not to charge more.
The customer satisfaction survey is taken monthly, and it’s conducted via phone calls to customers. “It’s still the most effective way to get accurate and viable answers,” says Dixon. The two research companies have a list of customers and Dixon says they get an unedited list of customers for the surveys.
“We don’t contact certain people,” says Dixon. “It’s a valid survey. Next year’s survey will include everything from June 1 of this year. We survey to see how OMU compares with their peers.”
The customer satisfaction survey is based upon three things: Reliability, costs/rates, and customer interaction.
Dixon understands customers have been frustrated as of late. She wishes the rate increases didn’t have to happen, and she wishes more customers realized that OMU is doing the best they can amid the circumstances. Dixon hates that the company has gotten so much negative feedback from the community.
Some residents don’t realize that their electric and water are billed and calculated completely separately. For those experiencing higher electric costs, Dixon says hot and humid Kentucky weather has a lot to do with the bill increase as 65 percent of an electric bill is attributed to heating and cooling within a resident’s home.
“Overall, the increase is due to usage in the summer,” says Dixon. “Some of it’s due to customers (who use more air conditioning more frequently) and some of it isn’t.” Dixon says the heat outside can run an air conditioner for longer times during the summer.
“A 93 is outstanding,” said Dixon. “And we’ve had the rate increases. The ratings continue to be positive, but I’m curious to see how this year goes.”