Energy needs to compare itself to consumer expectations, not the past of energy
We believe that the consumer wants and needs the right information, at the right time, explained simply and clearly – and via the channel that they find easiest and most convenient at that point.
- The historic performance of the energy industry has not been good enough
For years the energy industry has satisfied itself that it is doing the best it can, within a complex framework not of its own choosing. This was even captured by the industry’s own body Smart Energy GB in its adverts featuring consumers in other settings (click on the links below to watch the adverts):
The consumer benefit in these ads is all about clarity and transparency, but I believe that the haughty tone and attitude of the authority figure (whether shop assistant, doctor or race organiser) assigned to represent energy suppliers speaks volumes about the perceived distance in the relationship between consumers and their suppliers.
- Other industries have managed to get communication right, despite complex contexts
I have spent many years working in the food industry. As obesity in all age groups rose and as the life expectancy of the population dropped for the first time ever, the industry had to engage on the difficult topic of how to communicate to people the content of what they consume – irrespective of their educational background and overcoming the fact that the majority did not want to know.
The challenges were significant – there are many types of macro-nutrients and different lifestyles have different needs, it depends on the portion size as well as the food type, and all of this needs to be communicated in a tiny space on the front of small packs in a way that is legible and understandable, alongside other branding and regulatory messages.
And yet the food industry moved to a mix of simple graphics and numbers on the front of food packages that communicated all of this by using simple colour coding.
- We do need to respond to consumer expectations
One of the questions from the audience at the workshop was who do we (the energy industry) benchmark against? Our sense is that consumers expectations have been forever changed by key players:
- By Amazon for knowing where and when something is and when it will arrive, plus fast customer service via email
- By budget airlines for being clear on what is included and what each part costs, plus the benefits of self-service like printing your own boarding pass
- By eCommerce sites for service at your convenience, via email and chat on your mobile phone during your commute home or watching the children’s swimming gala, not having to wait on the phone for ages
- By ratings and review sites like Trustpilot, Google and onsite ratings, to hear the reality of other customer experiences, rather than rely on what their advertising says.
This is why Octopus make every email we send, one that can be replied to, and why we respond to emails every day (including Sundays) with a flexible ‘Digi-Ops’ workforce which includes people who are passionate about customer service but who also have non-conventional working patterns who can help right there and then, working from home.
- It is about building a two-way dialogue
So the energy industry needs to make step-change improvements in:
- Ease of getting hold of information and help
- Simplicity of the communications for people from every background and capability
- Transparency of what, how and why things are being done
And doing this through whichever channel the customer finds easiest to communicate through.
But perhaps more importantly, it is about engaging both ways.
When customers first join Octopus Energy, we send an email from our CEO, Greg Jackson, explaining why we founded this business and the standards that he expects us to live up to. At the end, he gives his email address and asks them to make contact at any time with anything they want him to know or help with.
He does manage and answer these emails and some of them contain the most personal information about the life stages and life challenges of that customer. We feel honoured that customers are prepared to share that with us; it enables us to serve them better right in that moment, and over time.
Jenny Ashmore, Chief Marketing Officer, Octopus Energy (Supplier of the year in the 2017 Energy Awards) spoke as a part of the panel at a workshop on the Future of Consumer Communications, hosted by Energy UK and Ofgem.