Utility Week

Utility Week 4th October 2013

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Comment Chief executive's view Paul Massara, Npower It's time we talked Energy firms need to regain the trust of their customers, but before that can happen companies, politicians and the public must have an honest conversation about what we want from our industry. S ince taking up the role of chief executive at the end of last year, the one question I've been asked more than anything else is "How can the energy industry rebuild trust?" This won't come as a surprise to anyone: other than the banking sector, no industry is less trusted than energy companies. My view is that, in the past, large companies and institutions acted rather like benevolent father figures, who wanted customers to blindly trust that they would look after their best interests. With the advent of greater transparency, it's clear that many institutions failed to get it right for customers – whether that's MPs, banks, energy utilities or even the Church. So how do we rebuild trust? I believe an important first step is to acknowledge that, in many ways, the energy industry as a whole has got a lot wrong over recent years. We have not been as transparent as we could have been and we've not always listened to what customers want. We've also failed to explain the need to make a fair profit – in order to invest in renewing the energy infrastructure, create jobs and keep the lights on – while keeping prices as low as possible for customers and businesses. Put simply, we've failed to answer the question, "what has the energy industry ever done for us?" And we cannot tell people to trust us; instead we have to earn trust by doing what is right for customers every day, day in, day out. At Npower, we have made a public commitment to change the whole way we do business. Until this year, Npower's generation and retail businesses were fully integrated, and although this had its advantages, it meant our focus wasn't solely on our customers. This has now changed: everything we do now has customers at the heart of it, building on our intention to be number one for customer experience by the end of 2015. Of course, announcing an intention is just the start – and we will be able to rebuild this trust only through tangible demonstrations of our change in culture. That's why, this year, we've been engaging in a whole range 6 | 4th - 10th October 2013 | UTILITY WEEK of customer closeness activities from the as H L Mencken said: "For every complex board downwards, right through the com- problem there is an answer that is clear, simpany – so we can actively listen and engage ple, and wrong." The truth is that there is no simple soluwith our customers and respond to their needs. We've set up a Voice of the Customer tion to juggling rising bills, increasing global panel with thousands of members – and the demand and the need to transition to a lowNpower leadership team recently spent time carbon economy. That is why, as energy working with a group of customers to under- emerges as an ever more hot topic, we need stand how we can improve, and what really to refrain from pointing fingers, and start having grown-up, frank convermatters to them. sations instead. We've radically simplified our bill The cost of paying for renewfor domestic customers, building it able energy, social programmes from scratch, cutting out the confusand energy efficiency is increasing parts and prioritising what peoing much faster than any other ple really care about. Our goal was element of an energy bill: a to put customers in control of their recent report from Decc showed energy, with a bill that's simple to that the cost of government polread and understand –and even easicy will add £286 to the average ier to act on. energy bill by 2020. We've also dramatically cut the Customers have the right to number of tariffs we offer down to We need know what decisions have been four clear choices – making it much to refrain made on their behalf by governeasier for customers to select and from pointcompare the best one for them – ing fingers, ment and the impact these decisions will have on their bills. To and we're in the process of moving help with this, we've launched our entire customer base on to these and have a grown-up Energy Explained, a report showOfgem-compliant tariffs. For business customers, we've conversation ing data about the likely trend of energy bills, which looks at why pledged to end auto-rollover contracts for SMEs, and are working in part- we think they are steadily increasing. To negate the cost of its policies, the govnership with our industrial and commercial ernment expects households to make huge customers to offer them bespoke solutions. We are committed to getting it right for energy efficiency savings. That's a big ask customers and these changes are just the for customers and we need to help them take control of their energy usage by providing beginning – watch this space. But, to go back to my question about how information and tools (such as Green Deal we can rebuild trust, as well as acknowledg- and smart meters) for them to make sensiing where we've got things wrong, there's ble decisions on saving energy. Let's be very a second action we must do – and that's to clear: the only real way to combat rising bills have an open and honest conversation about is to use less energy. The energy industry needs to be upfront the need to invest in our energy infrastrucand acknowledge where we've gone wrong ture and how that is going to be paid for. As the election approaches, and the battle and work harder to improve things for our ground of "affordable living" is staked out, customers. But it also needs to have a mature politicians of every colour will be tempted to discussion, between government, industry put forward simple solutions as "silver bul- and NGOs, about how to solve the impact of lets". For some, it seems an easy option to rising bills, the issues of growing fuel povplace all the blame at the door of the energy erty and effective ways of encouraging cuscompanies by talking about inefficient mar- tomers to save energy. If we can do this, then kets, huge profits and a "rip off culture". But, maybe we can truly start to rebuild trust.

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