Customer complaints in the Texas electricity market have declined for the fourth straight year, as reported by multiple news outlets including the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. Complaints are once again the lowest since deregulation began in 2002. Naturally, Recharge Texas (TCAP) once again continued to further their agenda by pointing out there were less complaints during the regulated days of Texas electricity. I’ve discussed this lazy, dense interpretation of these statistics before. But I’d like to revisit the reasons why complaints coming in lower for the 4th straight year is truly outstanding.
The fact of the matter is that the decline in complaints is a continued sign of the heath and growth of the Texas electricity market, exactly as was envisioned when the state deregulated in the first place. Complaints being higher than than they were before deregulated electricity can be explained for a number of logical, common sense reasons that people like Recharge Texas conveniently ignore, or worse, don’t recognize.
First, lets take a look at something somewhat prevalent called The Internet. It’s made the ability for people to leave reviews, fill out forms, and interact in regards to complaints whole orders of magnitude easier. In fact, not just easier, but it’s made the behavior or reviewing and interacting a part of people’s behavior. Want proof? Look at the existence of sites like Angie’s List, or Yelp. Texas Electricity Ratings alone has over 3500 reviews. People can now file formal complaints on their phone in a few minutes, quick and easy. As opposed to 2002 and prior where someone had to wait for dozens of minutes on the phone to speak with someone, or driving somewhere to fill out a form. In 2002 people were still using Netscape Navigator as a browser. Think about that, and consider how much more advanced and pervasive the Internet has become in the last 11 years. And now consider that this MIGHT have something to do with increasing customer complaints.
Second, lets also take a moment to appreciate the fact that when a market deregulates initially, it makes sense that there would be more complaints. There would be more complaints because of course there would be speed-bumps and growing pains with the new system. That is, again, just common sense. What should be heartening and a sign of encouragement is that the complaints continue to go down, every year. And lets not forget that the incentive to leave complaints actually exists after deregulation. There’s a reason for people to take the time and effort to lodge complaints now. Before, under regulation, what was the point? It wasn’t like it mattered, you were still stuck with the same provider regardless. Some people might actually think by complaining they could receive worse service, or a black mark in their account. But now that people DO have an incentive to leave complaints, the fact that complaints are going down each year is an excellent sign that the market is functioning as designed.
Third, and possibly the most remarkable thing to examine, is the population of Texas. In 2002, when Texas electricity became deregulated, the population of Texas was just over 21 million. In 2013, it is just under 27 million. That’s an increase of 6 million people, or approximately 25% of the entire population of Texas. In just 11 years, the population of Texas has increased by 25%. That is record growth, and yet some people are critical of deregulated electricity because there are still more complaints than when electricity was regulated? That’s not surprising since there’s actual incentive to complain and 6 million more people!
Considering all the points above, it’s actually quite remarkable that the total number of complaints has reduced every year for four straight years, even as the population has increased exponentially in Texas. It’s a fantastic sign that the players in the market place are figuring things out, following the rules, and improving their customer service. There’s a lot of reason for our Texas electricity market to be proud with this news.