Utility Week

UTILITY Week 5th February 2016

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26 | 5TH - 11TH FEBRUARY 2016 | UTILITY WEEK Customers Conference Energy Customer Conference, Birmingham, 21 January 2016 All change for energy When it comes to customers service, the energy sector knows that transformation is the only way forward. Saffron Johnson reports. T he energy industry entered 2016 with a sense of anticipation. Energy com- panies are waiting on the final propos- als from the CMA, and the smart meter rollout is at last beginning, both of which could change the energy landscape. For speakers at the Utility Week Energy Cus- tomer Conference in Birmingham, sponsored by Unipart, transformation was the common topic they brought to the stage. Speakers agreed that technology presents an opportunity for the industry to reset its relationship with customers. First Utility's chief operations officer, Phil Gripton, talked about the need to communicate with cus- tomers using new channels. Claire Maugham, director of policy and communications at Smart Energy GB, which heads the national smart meter campaign, talked about how customers' experience of the energy industry can be improved by smart technology. The consensus was that communication, whether through digital channels, social media or over the phone, was the most important tool in providing a good service to customers. Toni Calder, marketing and communications manager for UK Power Networks, noted the increasing importance of social media because it "creates a lot of engagement really fast". Rebecca Sedler director of B2B at EDF Energy, said the future of successful cus- tomer-provider relationships was the shar- ing of information with customers, working towards a "data-led future". Ofgem partner Rob Salter-Church explained that "prescriptive rules and regu- lation" could be a barrier to innovation, but he expected the rules to "change sig- nificantly to allow for innovation and new technology". Other speakers, including Daniel Walker- Nolan from Citizens Advice, Maureen McI- ntosh from SGN, and Eileen Brown from Northern Gas Networks, agreed that greater trust means people will be more amenable to things like the smart meter rollout. Simon Everidge, head of sector for utili- ties at Unipart Expert Practices, suggested that engagement was one "vital ingredient" for driving high levels of customer service. Oen used in reference to the aims of the CMA investigation, engagement also encom- passes the overall objective of the sector's hard work. Jo Causon, chief executive of the Institute of Customer Service, looked to the future of customer service and engagement, stating that her "vision is that the UK is seen as the place to experience great customer service". The speakers throughout the confer- ence supported Ofgem's Salter-Church, who predicted that the energy market is "at an inflection point… on the brink of a transfor- mational change". Phil Gripton, chief operations officer, First Utility "We need to com- municate with them on a channel that they choose. Give them knowledge and insight about their usage, then we can integrate those pieces together and people start to feel like we are a partner, rather than a provider." Views from the top table: Claire Maugham, director of policy and communications, Smart Energy GB "There is light at the end of the tunnel. Some people are not engaged by how

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