Decision Sciences Research Associates (DSRA) conducts a wide range of studies and analysis to support public utility companies including electricity, gas, and water. This work frequently involves surveys of utility customers from the residential, commercial and industrial sectors. We also do a number of on-site inspections at customer locations, including windshield surveys to determine dwelling unit type, to place and retrieve lighting logs, determine customer classes, and to place, tag and inspect equipment.
For many studies, we segment customers into geographic, weather zone, consumption, and building-type strata. This allows utilities to build efficient samples for data collection that can be weighted to produce unbiased and reliable estimates for a range of customer segments.
DSRA conducts a number of appliance saturation studies where we collect information from utility customers about their energy consuming appliances, gathering an inventory of in-use equipment in residential, commercial, or industrial settings. Such studies are typically conducted using very sophisticated sampling techniques to identify strata by type of structure, business, or consumption categories. We conduct these saturation studies to provide baseline data for some of the largest electric companies in the country as well as rural electricity co-ops.
In one specific type of saturation study we match the responses of both tenants and landlords in multiple dwelling units. These saturation studies typically recur at of 3 to 5 year intervals, so that our utility customers can detect significant differences in appliance saturations or changing use patterns over time. Saturation studies often include multiple mailing cycles, where non-responders are contacted more than once, sometimes by phone, in order to increase response rates. We also work with utilities to devise incentive programs to help increase response rates.
We successfully deal with the difficult problem of fielding studies to non-English speaking populations, conducting both mail and phone surveys in French & Spanish, and phone surveys many other languages. While residential surveys are typically mailed, telephone or in-person surveys are more commonly used for commercial or industrial customers. These often involve both appointment setting and data collection activities.
Demand Side Management (DSM) Surveys
Beyond simply measuring equipment and patterns of use, DSRA has been frequently called on to conduct surveys in support of utilities demand-side management (DSM) programs and evaluation efforts. DSM programs typically involve asking customers about their willingness to change consumption behaviors or their willingness to invest in energy saving equipment as participants in rebate or incentive programs. Some of the topics we have investigated include thermostat setback programs, use of energy efficient lighting, residential insulation, support for energy audit programs, and appliance repair or replacement programs. Additional surveys have asked customers or potential customers about their interest or opinions about new products of services.
DSRA is frequently called on to conduct surveys to evaluate specified Public Utility programs for Regulatory Agency review. These evaluations are done with the specific goal of being able to estimate the energy saved as a result of utility company investments in customer education, incentive, or public benefit programs. Such programs may include lifeline service, inspection, appliance repair or replacement, HVAC inspections, and weatherization.
DSRA develops savings estimates for a range of DSM programs, including those encouraging the use of compact fluorescent lamps, evaporative coolers, automatic thermostats and lighting timers, as well as programs dealing with residential new construction and energy audits conducted for residential, commercial and industrial customers. We are often called to testify in regulatory hearings where these estimates are under review, providing the scientific and statistical background to support the estimate. We use formal rigorous statistical techniques for all our work with Public Utilities. We are guided by the fact that because of regulatory oversight, utilities must be able to bind all survey-based estimates so that they are defensible in regulatory proceedings.
Customer Satisfaction Studies and Customer Relation Opinion Surveys
DSRA’s survey expertise is often called upon to support improvement of direct customer contact activities such as billing, staffing of regional offices, and call centers. We create both one-off and continuous Tracking Survey programs which provide information about the specific aspects of any customer/company contact situations as they affect customer satisfaction. We tailor the surveys to obtain actionable information. That means we not only measure the satisfaction, but find appropriate means to identify and measure the factors which can be targeted for customer service training, education or policy shifts which will positively affect satisfaction outcomes. We also conduct employee attitude surveys, which look at various aspects of the company culture specifically as it relates to customer relations and satisfaction.
Administrative Data Studies and Complex Data Processing
DSRA also conducts studies in which all of the information is gathered through complex data processing of administrative files, often linking historical files from various parts of the business, and combining them with third party geo-demographic and weather data in order to construct research databases. Many studies involve developing research-ready data out of utility company data and customer billing files. DSRA is particularly adept at finding our way through complex, historical, and divergent data to create a meaningful research database for investigating policy issues.
This administrative data processing often serves as the precursor for survey work, where we must first develop complex strata, so that better estimates can be obtained with fewer data collection points. We help our clients to develop survey instruments and sampling plans which help them to meet their measurement and policy evaluation goals as cost-effectively as possible.