The voice of the energy industry

What does good customer communication look like in the energy sector?

What should we be aiming for and what positive changes can come from innovation in communication?

I was fortunate enough to be asked to speak at the Energy UK workshop on Customer Communications last month. My starting point was to look into the future and to try and understand the trends that are shaping customers and their expectations. 

Key for me are trends such as:

  1. Accelerated demographics - with younger people facing challenges in paying for their education, housing, welfare and pensions, an aging and shrinking workforce in developed nations, restraining growth. Additionally, households are changing – in 2014 the most common household type (32.7%) were single people living alone.  Continuing austerity could mean that by 2025 an additional 15 to 25m people across Europe will be living in poverty.
     
  2. Digital explosion the exponential growth of computing power – illustrated by the growth of wearables (growing from $20bn - $70bn by 2025) and the forecasted 1 billion sensors that will be connected to the internet by 2022. Organisations are already experiencing talent shortage with 2 out of 3 companies reporting they are finding difficulty in sourcing the right skills for digital and analytics. And we are seeing new business models emerging – crowd sourcing, communities coming together to create buying groups, and individuals becoming suppliers as well as consumers of energy.
     
  3. The always on customer - where consumers are better informed, more critical and more demanding. Loyalty towards organisations is decreasing and becoming more conditional. Consumers seek a clear articulation of benefits to them and a growing reluctance to accept underperformance. Big data and associated analytics provides the opportunity to create segments of one but consumers will only release data to organisations they trust.
     
  4. World Re-Order – urbanisation and the growth of emerging economies, climate change and resource security, new business and governance models and geopolitical uncertainty. There is growing concern around cyber security – it cost the UK £34bn last year on both successful attacks and IT investment. We are also seeing the rise of new business models – Uber / Air B&B disruptions of traditional supply models.

So what do all these trends mean for good communications today and in the future?

Trust: For me, is the lynchpin of energy customer experience and communications going forward.  Personalised services and innovations such as real-time billing require organisations to gather and use customer data. A supplier that isn’t trusted to give the best price or the best service will not be trusted with personal data either from a security or commercial perspective. In the UK Customer Satisfaction Index (a bi-annual survey of 10,000 customers carried out by The Institute of Customer Service), the Utilities sector performs the third lowest to the transport and telecoms / media sector.  It also performs below the average for trust. Communication with customers needs to be honest and clear and supported by all aspects of the organisations’ behaviour and culture.

Investing in consistent communication across multiple channels: This is another area that the trends point to for the sector to improve on. The sector must move from reactive to proactive communication. The higher propensity for contact by phone rather than other channels points to the need to invest in employees – and not just in their technical knowledge; broadening demographics requires higher levels of emotional intelligence and a consistent service across a wide range of channels.  The potential for contact centres to deploy Artificial Intelligence to deal with more mechanistic elements of service delivery creates the future need for highly skilled, problem solving teams for more complex customer interactions.

Vulnerable Customers: The changing demographics and continuing austerity will require investment and attention in how to properly communicate with vulnerable customers.  We see a future where an individual’s circumstances can change very quickly, requiring service providers to be pro-active and agile in their approach.

Jo Upward is the Managing Director of Platform

Jo Upward from Platform spoke as a part of the panel at a workshop on the Future of Consumer Communications, hosted by Energy UK and Ofgem.

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