Utility Week

UTILITY Week 30th June 2017

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24 | 30TH JUNE - 6TH JULY 2017 | UTILITY WEEK Customers Event WNS Trust Council 31 May, London The Trust Council launches The inaugural dinner of the WNS Trust Council saw senior directors and chief executives meet to address a perennial problem for utility companies: how to regain the trust of customers. T rust in the utilities sector is at a low ebb. Energy retailers were attacked throughout the general election cam- paign for overcharging and unfairly treating customers. Water companies and energy net- works fare little better, oen being viewed with suspicion by those they serve. There are no easy answers or quick wins that will undo years of poor customer service and opaque pricing, which have led to pub- lic distrust and apathy. However, the Trust Council may be able to help. Set up by Utility Week, in association with WNS Global Services, it provides a forum for chief executives and senior directors with responsibility for customer service and cor- porate strategy to meet up regularly to share ideas and experience, and work towards potential solutions. An inaugural dinner took place last month in London to set the scene for the council and agree its ambitions. The first issue was identifying what has gone wrong. Why are trust levels so low? The common denominator in all the com- ments was that because energy and water are essential services affecting everyone's lives, there will always be a tension between free market forces and fairness. Furthermore, it was acknowledged that one bad story can go a long way, quickly cre- ating the impression that companies are "all the same". And there are plenty of negative stories. There is little doubt that the media jumps on bad news stories more quickly than posi- tive ones. However, the consensus view was "there is no smoke without fire", and while more can be done to promote positive news, only improved customer experience will deprive the naysayers of ammunition. In part, poor customer experience stems from the complexity of the industry, said council members. "We've taken an industry that's very simple and created something that's very complex and very difficult," was one statement that resonated. Pour volatile price rises on top of this complexity and inconsistent customer ser- vice and you get a "toxic" combination for trust, council members agreed. This is even more apparent when utilities are compared with other sectors, something the council said should happen more. The representatives from the energy com- panies – big and small – took some of the blame for this situation, but they said Ofgem also had to carry the can, especially because of the prescriptive nature of regulation and terms and conditions that currently exist. Customers were largely unaware of the difficulty posed by regulation, and for the most part don't care. Attendees agreed that it should be easier to do the right thing by cus- tomers without having to navigate lengthy mandated processes. One solution would be to work towards the idea of there being "no wrong door" for customers when they contact their utilities. The Utility Week-WNS Trust Council Chronically low levels of trust in utilities is a dominant industry issue. In energy, the CMA's market-wide investiga- tion, and proposed remedies, have failed to restore faith in the ability of a competitive mar- ket to deliver essential services in a fair and transparent way. Meanwhile, water companies are coming under increasing public scrutiny and being pushed to deliver better customer value. This central industry challenge has inspired Utility Week, in association with WNS Global Services, to launch the Customer Trust Council. The council will work with utilities to ask what has gone so badly wrong – and to find ways to move the sector forward. This would require the collaboration of all the energy companies – including networks – to create a system whereby a single call, to any industry player, would lead to a cus- tomer problem being resolved. However, the council also recognised that such collaboration, particularly among the big suppliers, could lead to accusations of anti-competitive behaviour. Rebuilding trust with consumers will not happen overnight, but the council believes it can be done. Collaboration, not only from within the sector, but pan-utility and with other sectors and regulators, is essential. All stakeholders in the industry's reputa- tion have a responsibility to break down the built-up complexities that bamboozle cus- tomers and destroy trust. They could return an industry that, at its core, is simple, trans- parent, and worthy of consumer confidence.

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