Co-op Energy won the 2017 Utility Week Customer Care Award for the way it handled taking on the customers of the failed GB Energy Supply. As part of a series of case studies looking at the Award winners, Utility Week looks in detail at the initiative.

  • Category title: Customer Care Award
  • Category sponsor: Vision
  • Award winner: Co-op Energy
  • Title of project/initiative: SoLR for GB Energy Supply
  • Annual company turnover: £295 million
  • Number of directly-employed staff: 464
  • Entry criteria:
  1. Quality of entry (clear, evidence based)
  2. Clear, quantifiable goals set for the project that were met or exceeded
  3. Measurable benefits for all customers, or a significant proportion of customers
  4. Measurable benefits for the business
  5. Evidence of going beyond business as usual

 

Ofgem appointed Co-op Energy to be the supplier of last resort for GB Energy, which failed in November 2016.

The company’s job was, therefore, not only to provide consistency and continuity for GB Energy customers as it smoothly transferred them onto its system, but Co-op also needed to significantly improve GB Energy’s poor customer services record, among many other things.

The objective of the project, from a customer services point of view, was to complete a smooth transition so customers were in no way inconvenienced by the failure of their supplier. Co-op wanted to go one step further and vastly improve the level of service that those customers had been getting before it had taken them on.

WHAT WAS THE SCALE OF THE PROJECT?

When Ofgem appointed Co-op Energy to take on the customers of the failed GB Energy, the company says its first responsibility was to the 160,000 customers which it acquired overnight.

However, it adds, it felt it also had a responsibility to all consumers to demonstrate the maturity and reliability of independent suppliers. The firm was the first of its kind to be appointed through a supplier of last resort process and so the pressure was on to prove that it – and others like it – were capable of not just delivering but exceeding expectations.

This meant dealing with tens of thousands of emails awaiting reply and billing exceptions, resolving more than 1,000 complaints, and massively improving the length of time customers were being left on the phone.

WHAT WAS THE TARGET GROUP?

Co-op Energy’s target was the 160,000 GB Energy customers which joined it in November 2016.

WHY THIS APPROACH?

Through the SoLR process, Co-op Energy gained 160,000 GB Energy customers. This increased the company’s customer base by more than 67 per cent overnight.

As well as maintaining excellent levels of service for those customers, Co-op Energy also had to vastly improve the experience for those customers of GB Energy.

This would require immediately dealing with a backlog of more than 24,000 emails, 29,000 billing exceptions, 12,500 direct debit exceptions and more than 1,200 outstanding complaints.

WHAT WERE THE PROJECT’S KPIS?

Co-op says the service that GB Energy customers were receiving was transformed by its appointment.

Within one month of being appointed as the supplier of last resort, the number of customers awaiting reply had gone from 24,000 to fewer than 900. The company had started with 1,200 unresolved complaints and ended the first month with just a little more than 200.

In six months, it had taken nearly 30,000 billing exceptions, almost a third of which were more than two billing periods old and reduced it to 1,500.

Within six months, all 1,200 home moves had been processed, and all 12,500 direct debit exceptions had been resolved. There were also full debt collection processes in place, where GB Energy had had none.

The company insists that, from day one, the customer experience was “seamless”. Additional to this, their balances were protected and the tariffs they were on were all honoured, which included not raising the price of the standard variable tariff for more than six months.

HOW WAS CREATIVITY DEMONSTRATED?

All customers’ credit balances were protected, including those customers who had switched but hadn’t received a refund.

Co-op Energy honoured all GB Energy tariffs for their duration – including pledging to fix the standard variable tariff for at least six months. This therefore represented a better deal for customers than they had been on before GB Energy’s failure.

We were able to retain all GB Energy staff, providing security of employment despite the fact that the business had failed.

WHAT HAS THE IMPACT BEEN ON THE COMPANY?

Being appointed the supplier of last resort meant that Co-op Energy gained around 160,000 customers overnight, significantly increasing its customer base and potentially welcoming thousands more customers into the cooperative movement. It did this without using conventional sales channels such as price comparison websites, and potentially saving more than £8 million in acquisition costs.

As a co-operative, Co-op Energy is owned by its members and they help decide how it runs its business. So, it says, it puts customers at the heart of everything it does and puts great value on delivering a good customer experience.

It adds that, for some elderly and fuel-poor GB Energy customers, moving to it meant they received £140 discount on their bills through the Warm Home Discount. “This is something we care greatly about,” says the company, “and we want this scheme extended to cover all eligible customers, not just those who choose larger suppliers, but ensuring former GB Energy customers received it was a good start.”

Co-op Energy had spent the previous year or more working hard to improve the service it provides to its customers and, it says, taking on GB Energy’s customers was an opportunity for it to extend that to a group of people who, from what it found when it took them on, had not been experiencing good customer service up to that point.

“This shouldn’t be acceptable for an essential service and we think Ofgem still needs to do more to raise the bar for new entrant suppliers to reduce this happening again,” it says.

WHO WAS INVOLVED?

Delivering this in the way Co-op Energy did, and to the standards that it did, involved people from every aspect of the business. In protecting all customers credit balances and promising to honour the tariffs of a company that was ultimately unable to live up to its own promises the company helped maintain customer confidence in independent suppliers and maintain consumer confidence in switching.

A tight-knit delivery team comprising of core expertise across the business was established to deliver the SoLR claim and ensure successful transition to extremely tight deadlines, including weekend work.

This was cross-discipline and included finance, regulation, contracts, wholesale purchasing, risk, and senior executives.

Staff members were able to develop their collaborative, negotiating and team-working skills to deliver significant commercial and customer service decisions to short deadlines.

This all helped to deliver a seamless customer experience and maintain consumer confidence in switching, which is vital for maintaining competitive pressure on prices and delivering benefits for all customers.

WERE THERE ANY HURDLES ALONG THE WAY?

Dealing with such large backlogs on essential issues like customer service, for so many customers, and in such a short timeframe, was a huge challenge for Co-op.

Ensuring that it significantly improved performance, without affecting service levels for existing Co-op Energy customers, and while meeting very tight deadlines required a huge amount of effort from everybody in its business.

The fact that it was successful was not just a coup for the company’s frontline customer services teams, but for every member of the Co-op Energy team.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

The judges said Co-op Energy was a company which bravely took on a high-risk project, providing a retailer of last resort for customers who had nowhere else to turn.

Edward Tarelli, chief operating officer, Co-op Energy

“Co-op Energy spent the previous year or more working hard to improve the service we provide to our customers and taking on GB Energy’s customers was an opportunity for us to extend that to a group of people who, from what we found when we took them on, had not been experiencing good customer service up to that point.

“This shouldn’t be acceptable for an essential service and we think Ofgem still needs to do more to raise the bar for new entrant suppliers to reduce this happening again.


The Utility Week Awards are held in association with CGI and Capgemini.

The 2018 Utility Week Awards have now launched.

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