Utility Week

UTILITY Week 30th January 2015

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24 | 30th January - 5th February 2015 | utILIty WeeK Customers Energy sector must resolve 'crisis of trust' C ollaboration, communication and con- fidence were the keywords at Utility Week's Energy Customer Conference in Birmingham last Thursday. Speakers at the conference, spon- sored by Sopra Steria and Interactive Intelli- gence, warned that trust in energy suppliers is now at an all-time low; with many compa- nies still seeking to prosper by "confusing and complicating" rather than being honest and transparent. "2015 is set to be a massive year in the world of utilities," said conference chair and Customer Whisperers managing director Nicola Eaton Sawford. "There's increasing demand for an effortless customer experi- ence which requires a much deeper customer insight and more creativity and innovation." Philip Cullum from Ofgem said price increases and a change in consumer atti- tudes have led to a "crisis of trust" under- pinned by poor customer service; and Ovo Energy's Philip Shaw said suppliers must now "love their customers or lose them". Stuart Allan from Sopra Steria advised suppliers to get all their processes working in an "omni-channel environment, to drive a seamless customer experience"; while Cul- lum emphasised the importance of "simple language, free from jargon". Other speakers, including Steve Rowe from Co-Operative Energy, Lawrence Slade from Energy UK and David Bird from Eon, echoed sentiments of a need for better trans- parency and more effective communication. Looking forward, the conference gave the sector reason to be optimistic in 2015, with the expansion of technology – particularly the development of smart meters – providing one of the biggest opportunities to improve the customer experience. "Smart metering is an immense opportu- nity for the sector to show everyone just how customer-focused we are, and how much value we can add," said Eaton Sawford. "It's an opportunity to revert the tide of public opinion, rebuild trust in the sector and rede- velop pride." "Bigger suppliers urgently need to get better at customer ser- vice. The key to getting it right is strong leadership, a focus on delivery and a greater sense of responsi- bility in regulated businesses." Philip Cullum, consumers and sustainability partner, Ofgem "Customer experience is not complex, but more challenging than everything you ever did before. There is no one meas- urement, one size fits all. You have to find out what drives your customers." Dr Phil Klaus, professor, eSCe International business School, Paris "When we talk about customer service, it's not just about the customer services team. It's about the whole organisation, every single person that works in it." Stuart Allen, head of transport and utilities, Sopra Steria "Make sure everything you do begins and ends with the customer. Make sure you understand not only how they think, but how they feel. Make sure you understand not only what they say, but how they say it." David Bird, residential and customer operations director, eon "Most people spend less than 70 seconds looking at their bill. Customers who have access to a smart energy report spend five to 10 minutes a month looking at their usage. They're looking at what they can do to reduce their consumption." Mike O'Donohue, director of insight and data, british Gas The speakers 5 KEY POINTS 1 Government, regulators, suppliers and stakeholders should work together to put vulnerable customers first. 2 Smart meters, social media and data analysis can help utilities understand customers' wants and needs. 3 Communication, understanding and plain speaking are key to rebuilding customer trust. 4 Suppliers "should not act like institutions", but "show they're on the customer's side", said Ofgem's Philip Cullum. 5 Things can only get better… The big six all score less than 50 per cent for customer service in the latest Which? satisfaction survey. But the conference highlighted many ways in which trust can be restored. "If something has gone wrong then be honest about it. Don't try to cloak it and dissemble it. Put it right and set it right so it doesn't happen again." Lewis Shand Smith, chief ombudsman, Ombudsman Services Conference Energy Customer Conference, 22 January Sponsored by Sopra Steria and Interactive Intelligence

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