This month's question: Why did you adopt a Member Loyalty Index, and how have you used its results?

Answer: The cornerstone of electric cooperatives is member ownership. It's essential that our members understand the co-op model and look at themselves as actual owners. In recent years, we've had concerns that the concept of member ownership has faded somewhat. When the Member Loyalty Index was first offered, we recognized it as a way to quantify our theory and identify ways to increase member-owner identity. The level of emotional attachment members have with their co-op is crucial information. Those who are more engaged tend to rate us higher on most all attributes considered in the annual survey. They are also much more likely to support the co-op and our mission. The data from the MLI not only gives us a look at how loyal our members are as a whole but also gives us information on which members could be more engaged. As is probably the case with most co-ops, the MLI showed that our longer-tenured, more “seasoned" members are our most loyal group. This caused us to rethink how we engage our younger, shorter-term members. Communication is key, so we've sought ways to reach our members through their preferred media types. As a result, we've increased our presence on social media platforms, revamped our website and implemented a new text-messaging service. We've already seen positive results but will continue to use the MLI to monitor progress.

Answer: During our 2021 strategic planning session with our board of directors, member engagement was identified as an imperative. As the team identified ways to prioritize member engagement in our daily routines, we first needed to gauge our members' feelings about us. Freeborn Mower Electric Cooperative is somewhat unique in that in 2015 we were part of a group of electric cooperatives that purchased the service territory, consumer accounts and assets of an investor-owned utility. This expanded our membership by nearly 15,000 members, all new to the electric cooperative business model. Our 2022 membership survey included the Member Loyalty Index for the first time. Our results showed that while we scored very well, we are slightly below the cooperative norms. This prompted our plan to develop a high level of trust with our members with the goal of becoming their trusted energy adviser. We are already showing measurable success. We are working at a grassroots level, educating and engaging our members around significant energy legislation being proposed in Minnesota. We will continue with community outreach, focusing on the impact we believe this legislation will have on the reliability and affordability of electricity.

Answer: This past year we engaged—once again—NRECA for the Residential Member Attitude Study. It's so important for us to be able to compare to past years' reports, gauge relative improvement (or not), determine how best to communicate with our members and see what is most important to them. Every year we look for ways to improve our service, delivery mechanisms and additional opportunities to be involved in the community in ways our members think is fair, productive and important. When I consider the seven cooperative principles, the results and findings of this survey help us determine the right education and training (some of which might need to happen on the member side) and how best to enhance our demonstrated concern for the community. We seem to be involved everywhere and think we are doing all we can, but we're always looking for additional assignments and ones where the impact is the greatest—thus impacting our Member Loyalty Index. With an engineering background, my team knows that I love data, charts and graphs. And reports and analyses like the NRECA Residential Member Attitude Study helps us to wholly understand if we are really as good as we think we are and if we are as good at crafting statements and key messages as we should be. We scrutinize this report closely and take to heart how to become better at what we do.

Answer: The Member Loyalty Index is a great tool to help us keep our finger on the pulse of our members. We do a residential customer satisfaction survey every three years and we've always included ACSI measures, but we decided to go deeper with our last survey and added the Member Loyalty Index. The MLI helps us know how well-aligned we are with our members:

  • Do they approve of the way we are doing business?
  • Would they still choose us if given a choice of utility providers?
  • Do they see us as an ally for their energy needs?

Looking more broadly, it helps us know whether they are proud to be associated with Gibson EMC and whether they consider us one of the best organizations of our kind. We've always regarded customer satisfaction as important, but now that we're also operating a competitive broadband business, member loyalty is even more critical. To gain and maintain subscribers, we must capitalize on all that sets us apart and makes us the optimal choice. In 2021, we were pleased that our MLI rating was 93, indicating an exceptional level of loyalty. We took the opportunity to publicly thank our members, and we celebrated the results with our employees and board. For us, the Member Loyalty Index serves as a constant reminder that we must deliver exceptional products and service to maintain our members' loyalty.

Answer: OPALCO evaluates its programs routinely and conducts a broad member satisfaction survey every three to five years. In the last survey, conducted by NRECA, we adopted the Member Loyalty Index for a baseline we could measure against and build on. It's helpful to see how we compare to peers and helps target our member-facing programs. The most recent survey results came out in 2020, following a period of change at the co-op: staff retirements, rising power costs and the addition of broadband services through a wholly owned subsidiary in the previous five years. While the co-op loyalty score came in healthy, we identified areas to focus on in the report analytics. The team launched several new programs in 2020-2021, including the Island Way Campaign, a monthly series of energy efficiency workshops on Zoom, a Why Run Campaign to encourage more interest and participation in co-op governance, and an on-bill financing program for efficiency measures called Switch it Up. The Why Run Campaign engaged co-op members interested in running for the board and resulted in greater diversity on the ballot and increased voter participation. More than 500 members attended the series of seven virtual Island Way workshops in 2021, and 200 attended an in-person EV Jamboree. To date, 400 members are financing their efficiency projects with $5.9 million in play through Switch it Up.

To learn more about the Member Loyalty Index, read this month's feature story.