Fewer utilities are offering mobile apps to help consumers pay bills and get updates on outage restorations, despite their widespread popularity and brand-boosting potential in other business sectors, according to a recent J.D. Power analysis.

Over the past two years, the number of large electric, gas and water utilities without apps grew to 30%, compared to 27% in 2020, the 2023 U.S. Utility Digital Experience study found.

Now in its sixth year, the study assesses how consumers interact with the nation’s 36 largest utilities on their website, mobile app, social media channels and chat and text functions. About 8,400 consumers were surveyed in November and December 2022.

Without apps, utilities are missing a prime opportunity to “dramatically” improve customer satisfaction during a particularly volatile time, said Jon Sundberg, senior digital manager at J.D. Power.

“At a time when rates are hitting record highs, catastrophic weather and outages are frequent, and the need to communicate effectively is paramount, utilities cannot afford to ignore implementing a digital strategy,” Sundberg said.

The decrease among the 36 largest utilities between 2020 and 2022 “means that a handful of utilities developed apps but abandoned the initiatives either due to unsuccessful implementations, low customer adoption rates or as cost-saving measures,” the report said.

More than 700 of the nation’s 900-plus co-ops offer members mobile apps through either National Information Solutions Cooperative or Meridian Cooperative. The apps enable members to do things like pay bills, report and track outages, view and monitor use of electricity and submit service requests.

Both developers provide apps to a majority of the top-ranking co-ops in the 2022 J.D. Power Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study.

“Most of the co-ops that rank high on that list are using our Smart Hub app,” said Amber Wesche, a NISC product manager based in its Lake Saint Louis, Missouri, office.

Wesche added that utilities need apps “to effectively connect with membership. It’s critical to offer a variety of communication methods. A mobile app is an important tool in that kit for building that connection.”

Jared Patton, a marketing communications specialist at Atlanta-based Meridian, agreed.

“Overall, by providing a convenient, personalized and engaging experience, mobile apps can help co-ops build stronger relationships with the communities they serve and increase overall consumer happiness.”

Recent research from Touchstone Energy® Cooperative consistently shows that members go online to find answers to energy-related questions and that they’re increasingly using their mobile devices to do so.

Even co-ops without apps should ensure their websites will perform well for smartphone users.

“Whether a co-op invests in an app or a mobile-optimized website, creating a strong digital presence is a must to drive member satisfaction,” said Jana Adams, executive director of Touchstone Energy.