Expert energy analysis and insight for UK businesses.
Knowing how much employees contribute to earning customers trust, how can energy companies and consultancies help their people consistently be their customers’ heroes?
Airline pilots show how, when consistency really matters, checklists are invaluable. Even with decades of experience flying and thousands of hours in a particular plane, they follow a checklist on each and every landing. There’s no room for “oops I forgot a step”. Same goes for earning customers trust.
Checklists can help businesses consistently put customers first. To avoid a tick box exercise, a meaningful checklist should:
• reflect the needs and desires of your customers
• formalise the standards and principles you’d like your business to live by
• and help employees stay true to them.
Right now in the UK energy market, there are some good bases for a ‘put your customers first’ checklist. Some are a response to the low level of consumer trust that all companies in the energy sector need to address. Here are a few examples of ones for energy companies and ones for energy consultants.
Trust building checklists for energy suppliers
Last summer, Ofgem introduced the Standards of Conduct for electricity suppliers. These set out how the regulator expects energy companies to behave and treat their customers fairly.
They are not a lofty, voluntary, aspirational set of values. They are conditions built into electricity suppliers licences – in other words, mandatory. They force energy companies to formally check that any new process, policy or communication is fair, simple and clear to consumers.
At EDF Energy, we apply these standards through something we call our Trust Test. An early step in the creation of a process, policy or communication is a check that we’re doing the right thing for our customers. It includes asking these five questions:
1. Is this a fair thing to do?
2. Are we being professional?
3. Are we offering products, services and advice that are appropriate for each customer’s needs?
4. Are we being transparent and communicating clearly?
5. Are we being honest? Including admitting mistakes and acting quickly to put them right.
A great practical example of our Trust Test is the way we changed how we present our fixed price contracts for businesses . We describe everything in plain language – including comparisons between contracts and explanations of what affects wholesale electricity costs (PDF), network charges (PDF), and renewable energy incentives (PDF). There’s even a decision making tool to help customers be clear about what they really want from their electricity contract.
It’s been so worthwhile. We’ve had a fantastic response from customers with lots of stories of how they have chosen their next electricity contract with confidence.
We began working to checklists sometime before the Standards of Conduct were introduced.
In March 2012, we launched our Customer Commitments, three promises to our customers: to deliver fair value, better service and simplicity. We report every year how we’ve been doing against them.
Since 2011, we’ve used a checklist from the Institute of Customer Service (ICS). Our ServiceMark accreditation from the ICS includes a customer service development plan. This is effectively a personalised checklist for customer service management. It tracks how we’re doing on some 40 factors including the helpfulness, competence and attitude of staff and helps us focus on the areas that need the greatest improvement. This includes making sure that employees are engaged and understand our customer service strategy.
Trust building checklists for energy consultants
The most important checklist for energy consultants – the TPI Code of Practice – is currently being developed by Ofgem.
Worried that some energy consultants (technically called Third Party Intermediaries or TPIs) are damaging the reputation of the whole sector, last year Ofgem launched a programme to work out how to regulate TPIs’ practices.
It’s focused on these three concerns:
1. Prices – the clarity of charges TPIs levy on customers
2. Promises – TPI selling practices
3. Problems – the extent to which TPIs make consumers aware of their redress options
Ofgem has made a good deal of progress. Ofgem has held several workshops with a working group of 33 interested parties – mostly suppliers, TPIs and consumer bodies – to work out the best way to regulate the TPI market.
The draft TPI code of practice (PDF) sets out standards TPIs should meet when dealing with customers:
• professional and honest behaviour
• transparency of information and fees
• and effective monitoring
Ofgem’s consultation on the draft code closes at the end of June.
To ensure this code is applied in the market, Ofgem intends to include a new condition into energy supply licences. Energy suppliers will only be able work with TPIs that are accredited under the Code.
Before Ofgem’s initiative, three voluntary TPI codes – from the Utilities Intermediaries Association, E.ON and EDF Energy – have provided checklist s for TPIs. The cornerstones of EDF Energy’s TPI Agreement are closely aligned with what Ofgem hopes to achieve. For example, the TPI commits not to missell itself or misrepresent EDF Energy, and to give customers access on request to any fee that the TPI has asked to be included in the customer’s unit rates. To date we have over 230 agreements signed.
Ofgem clearly believes that suppliers and TPIs are jointly accountable for giving a high quality service to business consumers . So do we. That’s why we take great pains to ensure there is transparency in our joint relationships with customers.
Standards to live by
These checklists, when applied true to their original purpose, can help build a much more trustworthy relationship between energy companies, TPIs and customers. That’s worth the effort.