Earning customers’ trust – how people make the difference

One of the joys of sponsoring the Unsung Hero award at TELCA 2014 has been reading about the candidates.

Against reports of low trust in the UK energy sector, the unsung heroes’ stories are refreshingly positive. They are a catalogue of trust building success stories.

It got me thinking: how much can the way we serve business customers rebuild their trust in the energy market? Because when you look at the trust issue more closely, there’s plenty of evidence that our individual actions can make a real difference.

We must address the lack of trust

Two ongoing studies show just how low consumer trust in the UK’s energy sector now is.

The Which? Consumer Insight Tracker has reported declining levels of trust in energy companies since the survey began in 2012. In November 2013 only 15% of consumers said they trust energy companies to act in their best interests.
In a larger, longer running study of trust in business, the 2014 Trust Barometer from global PR firm Edelman, the UK energy sector ranked bottom of the class of the 27 nations surveyed.

That’s woeful. It’s in all our best interests – consumers too – to correct it.

The success of many of the lowest cost paths to a low carbon future – ‘Smart’, demand response, self generation, more energy efficiency – depends on consumers choosing to take part in them.

So what can build trust?

Customer service can.

It’s all about people. The logic flows like this:

Much of a customer’s trust in a company is based on their actual experience of a company and how satisfied they were. Satisfaction depends a great deal on the service they receive. Or put as a simple equation:

Customer service = customer satisfaction = customer trust

So says a recent report (PDF) from the Institute of Customer Service (ICS). It shows a clear link between businesses’ customer satisfaction scores and how much people said they trust those businesses:

• The top 16 most trusted businesses each had an above average customer satisfaction score for their sector.
• Three quarters of them ranked in the top 20 for customer satisfaction in the country.

The ICS has a good body of data for this comparison – their own UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) which surveys customer satisfaction across 189 organisations in 13 sectors twice a year.

Amazon ranked fourth for most trusted. Using them as an example, the ICS explained how great customer service helps protect customer’s trust in the business against negative media coverage:

“Despite widespread media coverage of Amazon’s tax and employment practices, it scores highly for both trust and customer satisfaction. It can be argued that the consistency of its customer service performance helps Amazon maintain trust and reputation in the eyes of its customers.”

The report also linked trust with two issues closer to the bottom line: customers’ likelihood to recommend a business or remain loyal to it.

Customers were 27% more likely to recommend and 18% more likely to repurchase from businesses they scored more than 8 out of 10 for trust, compared to those they scored less than 7 out of 10.

So a business with employees that strive to satisfy customers is in a good place. The trust it has earned will support future sales.

And what delivers the most customer satisfaction?

How employees serve customers.

In EDF Energy’s monthly survey of business customers, people related factors punch way above their weight for improving customer satisfaction. Top of the list are behaviours such as:

  • ‘taking the time to understand the nature of my contact’

  • ‘a good rapport’

  • ‘showed empathy’

  • ‘their expertise’

  • ‘kept me informed throughout the process’

Our people have a tremendous impact on customer satisfaction. So we created a ‘trust forum’ to help, amongst other things, employees understand how the service they personally deliver directly influences customers’ trust in EDF Energy.

It’s well worth the effort because…

Employees are companies’ most trusted representatives

The Trust Barometer shows employees outrank CEOs as a credible source for most kinds of information about a company. The gap between CEOs and regular employees has grown each year since 2009. Customers place the most trust in employees with technical expertise and those they see as ‘a person like yourself’.

Recognise customers’ heroes to help rebuild trust

The strong links from service to satisfaction to trust shows how much individuals can help rebuild trust in our sector.

That’s why we believe it’s so important to recognise employees who ‘go above and beyond’ and be open about improvements we’re making behind the scenes.

In EDF Energy’s I&C teams, we run an annual awards programme that gives our employees a way to recognise outstanding efforts of their peers. Our people are also rewarded when a customer names them for providing a good service during a customer satisfaction survey. And each year we publish how we’re doing against our commitments to offer customers fair value, better service and simplicity.

Because a lot of our customers come to us through energy consultants, we wanted to recognise their best people. We hope sponsoring the Unsung Hero award at TELCA 2014 helps shine a light on people building trust with customers in this part of the energy market.

After all, trust is all about people, people, people.


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