Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to review the evolution and development of customer service performance measures in the electricity sector since privatization in 1989, and then examine the impact of a specific recent energy regulatory requirement (known as information and incentives project (IIP)) on the organizational management of an exemplar electricity distribution company. Also discussed is how the sector has tried to learn from benchmarks from a number of such literary disciplines as economics, marketing service quality, and total quality management. Design/methodology/approach - The research first presents a survey of the historical development of performance standards based on archival documentation. It is then augmented by the employment of a longitudinal "tracer study", involving the isolation and firsthand real time qualitative observations of a company's key strategic and operational activities, to understand how they related to the other organizational phenomena at large. This process spanned an investigative period of two years. Findings - The paper finds that much of the early standards used in electricity immediately after the sector's privatization rested much on those in the water and gas safety sectors, which themselves were then admittedly inadequate in UK. The IIP, a complementary set of service quality standards, worked on these early problems, but the implementation of the new scheme proved problematic and warranted major organizational reengineering, as shown in the exemplar company, ElectriCo. IIP has impacted on organizational management mostly in the areas of: higher-level strategic change, causing noticeable internal confusion during strategic transitions, building a performance management system, improvements in performance data, and establishing more effective ways for management. Research limitations/implications - While the case example used in the research is a regional monopoly and is a good representation of the context in which the service standards operate, the findings are limited to the one company. It is a UK specific context without international comparison. Originality/value - The research has combined archival research with an innovative firsthand methodological approach (tracer studies). Its value is in how the story of service standards in electricity (and specifically distribution) has been augmented from the early customer service standards to the most recent IIP considerations. It also looks from within the company, which has been missing in longstanding research in the more traditional disciplines such as economics. © 2009 Emerald Group Publishing Limited. All rights reserved.
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