National Fuel Gas Co. is getting good grades for customer satisfaction in a new survey by J.D. Power and Associates ranking natural gas utilities.
The Amherst-based energy company's score improved 7 percent from last year and came on the heels of an 8 percent improvement in 2009. The average U.S. natural gas utility's customer satisfaction score was virtually unchanged last year.
National Fuel's customer satisfaction grade was its highest in at least five years. National Fuel's score of 665 was the 17th highest among the 49 U.S. natural gas utilities included in the customer satisfaction survey and the second-best among the 11 Eastern U.S. gas utilities that were part of the ranking.
National Fuel's score was much better than its 2010 score of 619 and was the second straight year of improvement in the company's ranking. National Fuel scored 575 in 2009 and 593 in 2008.
"Providing excellent customer service has always been a priority and a focus," said Karen L. Merkel, a National Fuel spokeswoman. "We have achieved tremendous gains in recent years and will continue to work at ways to improve upon those results."
The average U.S. natural gas utility scored 651, virtually unchanged from 652 last year.
The survey ranks utilities on six factors: billing and payment, corporate citizenship, price, communications, customer service and field service.
Chris Oberle, the senior director of J.D. Power's energy practice, said customers are largely not satisfied with the communications they receive from their natural gas utility, offsetting some of the improving marks they receive from the falling price of natural gas.
New York State Electric & Gas Corp.'s gas utility business, which serves portions of Niagara and Orleans counties, as well as parts of the Southern Tier, was not part of the latest survey after having been included in previous rankings.
The other major upstate natural gas utility, National Grid, was tied for 40th nationally and had the second-lowest score among the large gas utilities in the Eastern U.S. at 631. That was 12 points below the average score for Eastern U.S. utilities. Still, National Grid's score was up from 610 last year and 594 in 2009 and 587 in 2008.
National Grid does not provide gas utility service in Western New York.