Utility Week

UTILITY Week 26th June 2015

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UTILITY WEEK | 26TH JUNE - 2ND JULY 2015 | 25 Customers Market view N ew consumer research finds that £42.3 million is lost to individual UK energy companies each month as disabled customers switch suppliers due to poor dis- ability awareness. The Business Disability Forum (BDF) has spent over 20 years building disability confi- dence with large business and public sector organisations that employ close to 20 per cent of the UK workforce. It is an experience that put us in a unique position to assist the Extra Costs Commis- sion on a year-long report examining, and makes recommendations, about how to reduce the extra costs that disabled custom- ers and households face as a direct result of disability. The interim report released in March 2015 found that 75 per cent of disabled people and their families have walked away from a service provider as a result of poor disabil- ity awareness, at a cost of £1.8 billion to UK businesses every month. The release of more detailed research with more than 2,500 disabled customers shows how individual sectors fare, with an estimated £42.3 million lost each month to individual energy companies as disabled customers and their families switch supplier. The research finds that more than 500,000 disabled customers have switched supplier due to poor disability awareness – 5.7 per cent of all disabled customers – and 4.9 per cent of parents and carers have also switched energy supplier because of poor disability awareness. More than half of disabled customers reported switching generally in the past two years, either to a new supplier or to a better deal with their current supplier. This points to a much more assertive customer, contrasting with Department for Business, Innovation and Skills research (2014) that found just 13 per cent of non-disabled people reported switching supplier. Moreover, the scale of the opportunity for those energy suppliers that get it right is growing. There are currently three million people aged 80 years or more, which will reach six million by 2030 and eight million by 2050. Ageing is a proxy for growing levels of disability. Close to half of all people aged 65 years or more have a disability. This high- lights why disability know-how is increas- ingly central to addressing the requirements of an ageing customer base. Key issues for disabled, and indeed older, customers include: • ensuring customer facing staff are skilled and confident in interacting with custom- ers with different disabilities and impair- ments. This includes interacting with customers with non-visible disabilities such as dementia and mental ill health; • ensuring the digital interface is straight- forward and wholly accessible to cus- tomers with all types of disabilities and impairments. At a minimum, this requires meeting W3C guidelines for web acces- sibility, but usability goes further and points to the value of engaging customers with different disabilities in design and testing processes; • ensuring accessible communications are provided that make customers with dif- ferent disabilities aware of the different energy schemes available for them, and about tariffs generally. For example, two in five disabled customers report a lack of awareness about the government's Warm Home Discount Scheme, which offers dis- abled customers a £140 discount off their electricity bill. In short, it is about building into main- stream service design, empathy for the disa- bled and older customer and the capacity to personalise service for customers with all types of disabilities. BDF member EDF Energy, for example, offers a good example. The company's personalised support service web page provides a central information point providing advice for customers with specific requirements, as well as ways to reduce energy costs and find the best tariff. From this web page, customers can enquire as to whether they are eligible for the priority services register, which can help with meter readings and the provision of communications in braille, large print and audio, and the Energy Company Obligation (Eco) scheme. The EDF Energy Trust provides further support for vulnerable families and individu- als living in poverty who are struggling to pay their utility bills. Since 2003, the trust has awarded over £12.3 million in grants to help vulnerable customers clear gas and electric- ity debt owed to EDF and other suppliers. These types of initiatives go some way to improving the experience of disabled cus- tomers. The challenge for energy suppliers – and indeed all businesses – is creating a consistent good quality service for all types of customers with all types of disabilities. It does require looking beyond a focus on average handling times in contact cen- tres, for example, to quality of service and staff who can explain tariffs and options for reducing energy costs to customers in ways that make sense to them. It means applying lessons from other ser- vice providers to ensure that empathy is built into digital design processes so that the cus- tomer with arthritis, for example, can read- ily use the application or the person with a visual impairment can use text-to-speech soware for the whole of the website. People oen ask me what they should do first. That is easy from my perspective. A first action for any energy supplier is captur- ing the views of disabled and older custom- ers about how they currently experience services and the suggestions they have for improvement. The market opportunity is there for energy suppliers to secure the loyalty of disa- bled and older customers and their families and friends and it starts by talking directly to these customers. George Selvanera, director of policy, services and communications, Business Disability Forum Disability blind spot Utility providers are losing millions of pounds' worth of business every month by failing to appreciate the needs of disabled customers, says George Selvanera. THE BIG NUMBER £42.3m The amount research shows energy compa- nies lose per month due to disabled custom- ers switching suppliers

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