Utility Week

Utility Week 24th February 2017

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28 | 24TH FEBRUARY - 2ND MARCH 2017 | UTILITY WEEK Customers Market view I n a report detailing Ofwat's expecta- tions for the opening of the business water market in 2017, Tim Griffiths, Ofwat's director of retail market opening, states that customers must be at the heart of communication, that retailers should be fair and transparent, and that information must be timely, allowing customers to make informed choices. Customer service arrange- ments and processes should also be accessi- ble and effective. With this in mind, what can we expect in 2017 when businesses and other non- householders in England and Wales are free to choose their water supplier? And how can licensed suppliers prepare for the new era? 1. Billing errors Gentrack's experience as a provider of util- ity billing and customer relationship man- agement (CRM) applications in deregulated T he recent investigation into the energy market by the Competition and Mar- kets Authority (CMA) concluded that energy companies must do more to engage with their customers – particularly those on what it described as the "worst deals". And with around 16 million consumers on a standard variable tariff with one of the big six energy companies, that was an inescap- able conclusion. The CMA investigation was followed by a Which? survey that found that 74 per cent of people had not been contacted by their energy supplier about changing their tariff in the four months aer the CMA investigation had concluded. The resulting Fair Energy Prices campaign run by Which? is just one of many exam- ples of the pressures facing energy suppliers today. It is tempting to agree with Alex Neill, the Which? managing director of home and markets in New Zealand and Australia has conferred an understanding of what can hap- pen during a period of significant change. With an estimated 1.2 million potential new customers onboarding from April 2017 in the UK, errors with billing and incorrect data entry are bound to happen. To counter this, organisations need to make sure a revenue assurance system is in place to improve the quality of data. Tactical transition planning programmes, data vali- dation and tariff management tools will also be vital components in helping avoid costly errors during the changeover. 2. Tougher customer retention Gas and electricity markets became deregu- lated in the UK in 1996 and 1998 respectively. The unruly doorstep selling that ensued did little for suppliers' reputations (and elicited fines for mis-selling energy contracts). Fast- forward 20 years and it's a different ball game. The internet is at the centre of cus- tomer communications and its capability needs to be further harnessed and maxim- ised by water suppliers. Customer expectations are at an all-time high, and comparison and switching web- sites are part of consumers' vernacular. Streamlined billing, web-based customer services and water meter asset tracking will give suppliers the competitive edge they need to acquire and retain customers. 3. Some will be unprepared Being ready for customers will require a mutifaceted approach that some companies simply won't be prepared for. In the Water Report, April 2016, Defra's Sarah Hendry states that companies need to define what it means to be "ready". In the same article, Ofwat's Cathryn Ross explains that there are three distinct elements for water companies in being ready: technical, cultural shis and strategic aspects. All will be equally important in the abil- ity of water companies to make the transition successfully. To gain a competitive edge, sup- pliers will need to have all of these aspects at the forefront of their plans. Aaron Slebos, market specialist, Gentrack Triple trouble The opening of the business water market and the customer focus imperative will give the water companies three big challenges this year, writes Aaron Slebos. IT can set you free Are energy companies really in the last chance saloon because of customer engagement failure? Aaron Slebos thinks there's more to it than that. legal services, who said: "This is the last chance saloon for the energy industry." If it is, it is also a time of great opportu- nity. Over 85 per cent of consumers believe it is up to the energy companies to help them understand their energy usage better, according to the Which? survey. What that tells us is that the vast majority of consumers are open to communication with their energy supplier, even if they are not expecting it. And many more are actively engaging with suppliers as they seek to switch. More than 6 million consumers switched energy suppliers in 2015, a rise of 15 per cent on 2014. Price is only one driver for change. Ultimately it is the nature of the communica- tion made at these times, and the customer experience, that will make them stay. The real question is not so much whether energy companies are in the last chance saloon, but whether they can rise to the occasion and make the most of what is also a significant opportunity. For new customers, getting the onboard- ing process right from the start is criti- cal. Companies that fall at this first hurdle lose not just a customer, but potentially all those whom the dissatisfied consumer influ- ences. For existing customers, a proactive approach, the right customer service proto- cols and a tailored offer are key. In almost every case it will boil down to the same things: having the right so- ware systems in place to enable the utility to develop its product and service offering, and to deliver against customer expecta- tions. From processing huge volumes of data generated by smart metering technologies to the basics of accurate billing, the right so- ware system will give utilities the capability to nurture customers and the flexibility that has become essential to compete in today's energy market. No doubt some will simply drown their sorrows and fall by the wayside, but for those who seize the opportunity, not only will they exit Neill's last chance saloon with their existing customers content, they will also be taking many new customers with them. Aaron Slebos, market specialist, Gentrack

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