Westlake Village, CA, U.S.A. --- (METERING.COM) --- March 25, 2008 – The J.D. Power and Associates 2008 Gas Utility Business Customer Satisfaction Study(SM)  shows that a sharp increase in customer-reported bill amounts has contributed to an overall decline in satisfaction of businesses with their gas utility service. J.D. Power is a global information services provider

The study finds that overall satisfaction of business customers of the nation's 40 largest gas utilities has decreased by eight points to an average of 715 on a 1,000-point scale, down from 723 in 2007. Overall satisfaction is measured through six factors: billing and payment; communications; company image; customer service; field service; and price.

The study finds that customer-reported bill amounts increased by 31 percent since 2007 to an average of $4,124 in 2008. In contrast, customer-reported revenues increased by only 16 percent in 2008.

"A myriad of reasons, including increased gas consumption, rising fuel costs and rate increases have contributed to higher customer-reported bill amounts," said Al Destribats, vice president of the energy practice at J.D. Power and Associates. "Unfortunately, customer-reported revenue growth did not keep pace with the increase in gas bill costs. Increases in gas utility bills placed an additional cost burden on businesses, which negatively impacted satisfaction. In particular, satisfaction with the price factor declined most for smaller businesses that have annual revenues of less than $10 million."

The study also finds that when rate increases occur, utility companies can mitigate decreases in satisfaction by proactively communicating with their business customers. Among those business customers who say that they heard about a pending rate increase, approximately 83 percent report that they found out from the news media. Customers who heard about rate increases from their utility company provide price factor scores that average nearly 100 points higher than do customers who find out through the news.

"Communication, particularly regarding rate increases, is of utmost importance in satisfying utility business customers," said Destribats. "Utilities that educate customers regarding energy efficiency and rebate programs also tend to have more highly satisfied customers, particularly when it comes to price. While paying more for gas service may be unavoidable, business customers appreciate being able to plan for these increases and manage their costs, which is why proactive communication from utility companies is so critical."

Keyspan, Missouri Gas Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, and Southern California Gas Company lead business customer satisfaction rankings in their region for a second consecutive year.