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Energy suppliers have a wealth of information about their customers, so they should use it to provide a perfect customer journey. That was one of the conclusions of a roundtable hosted by Utility Week in association with Thunderhead.

There is no doubt that energy suppliers’ relationships with their customers are changing. The customer often has more information than a supplier, which is a reversal of the historical relationship energy companies have had with their customers. So it is increasingly important for suppliers to really listen to their customers to understand what they want. This was one of the main conclusions of a recent roundtable held at London’s Century Club, hosted by Utility Week in association with Thunderhead and chaired by UW acting editor Suzanne Heneghan.

It is the responsibility of everyone within an organisation to “own” the customer relationship, attendees decided, but it is important that a customer-focused organisation is led from the top. It is up to the chief executive, the chief data officer and the chief customer officer to drive a company-wide customer-centric culture.

Try as they may to facilitate the perfect customer journey, energy suppliers often find regulations get in the way of giving customers what they want. This was one bugbear of those sitting round the table. “The industry process, regardless of the experience you want to give your customer or what the customer wants, dictates a large part of the customer journey,” said one.

It was suggested that energy suppliers must be braver about pushing back against regulations, and one or two attendees expressed disappointment with trade body Energy UK, which they felt acts more like a mouthpiece than an industry champion.

There are internal challenges too. For example, especially in larger businesses, different aspects of customer service can often get siloed into different departments. Connecting these silos is key to creating an effective customer journey.

Another key aspect of providing the journey a customer wants is transparency. If you’re going to raise your prices, tell the customer in plenty of time why this has to happen. If a customer is going to receive a higher bill, let them know before it happens to avoid “bill shock”. Try to solve problems before the customer even knows about them.

Equally important, suppliers must remember there is more than one “type” of customer. One of the questions posed at the roundtable was about whether one-to-one personalisation is just a pipe-dream. Attendees were almost unanimous in stating that it is not, but it requires a new way of working in which suppliers try to understand customers on almost an individual level. For this, they need to be able to analyse the abundance of data that is at their fingertips.

Data was an issue that cropped up throughout the afternoon. Amid the influx of data and technology innovation hitting the sector, how well-equipped are companies to deal with the explosion of information coming their way? Participants suggested there are varying levels of preparedness. However, generally the level is pretty low.

Data, or rather the insight companies can gain from data, is key to delivering an excellent customer journey, and there is certainly no shortage of data available to suppliers as technological advancements such as smart meters and electric vehicles increase its output. However, many suppliers don’t know how to handle this data and get the best and most useful information out of it. In other words, there is, as one attendee put it, “loads of data and not much insight”.

“A lot of companies are struggling at the moment because they’ve got some of the data, they’ve got some of the messages in terms of how they can present to the customer, but they haven’t linked the two things together yet,” another participant said. Suppliers need to make sure they have the correct data analysis team in place so that they avoid what one participant referred to as “analysis paralysis”.

One thing is certain, the customer journey is changing, and in order to facilitate an excellent customer journey, suppliers must learn to analyse data in an effective way which gives them insights into their customer base.

Wil Lynch, vice president, business value consulting, Thunderhead

“Connecting data silos is the biggest ­challenge that every brand needs to overcome – once you’ve broken the back of that, customer engagement is a far more digestible challenge.”

Katie Russell, head of data and analytics, Ovo Energy

“The data we’ve gathered is only useful when we can process it through interpretation and analysis, and it needs collaboration with the other teams to help them identify what we need to change internally, or what will help customers most.”

Jonathon White, head of digital transformation, Centrica

“Many energy suppliers, especially larger companies, want to be customer-centric, but they are struggling to work with the some of their legacy systems.”

David Ford, operations director, Bristol Energy

“We’ve got loads of data, what we haven’t got is a lot of insight. How do you take that data and apply some intelligence to it which gives you insight?”

Kat Storey, digital director, Co-op Energy

“Some regulations are clunky and make it hard for us to deliver an excellent customer journey. Regulation helps protect customers, but regulators need to take into account the customer journey so measures are as effective as possible.”