Pete Miller: Why the energy industry should provide as good a service as retail businesses
Pete Miller, Co-Founder and Head of Customer Experience, Octopus Energy
Last year, 3.8 million complaints were logged to energy suppliers.
Smaller, challenger brands are grabbing market share from legacy providers commonly known as the Big Six. Many complain that they are charged extortionate rates, can never get through to someone who cares and feel unvalued and taken for granted.
It’s a slow revolution. The Big Six market share in 2012 was 81%. By Q3 2018 it was still 75%, with newer suppliers like Octopus Energy on 1%, Bulb on 3% and Ovo on 4% (source: Ofgem). But it is a revolution nonetheless, and Octopus recently passed the 600,000 mark.
So why are people switching?
- First, sustainability. Customers are now actively seeking out providers that are committed to finding genuine solutions to the task of weaning us off fossil fuels and on to renewables, and are harnessing cutting-edge technologies in our quest to bring about this huge change in their consumption profile.
- Second, customer service.
- And third, customer service.
We are taking on board lessons learnt from the retail sector’s ability to engage with new demanding customers in a digital era.
We live in an on-demand age. One where the old ‘natural’ order, Corporate Britain if you like, has been challenged and disrupted. Younger viewers these days turn to Netflix and follow the latest releases avidly.
That’s because they’re easy to access, can be watched wherever you have a Wi-Fi connection (even on the train) and has immediately responsive customer service. Nowadays, customers increasingly choose to buy through Amazon rather than going to the shops. There’s a reason why Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest man. He has created a platform for trading goods that is immediately responsive and resolves complaints super-quick. (Whether you are happy with reports of employment rights and reward for Amazon’s workers is a separate issue, but the customer service is one where it excels.)
And of course, ride-sharing apps such as Uber are created in response to public demand for, well… responsiveness.
Of the Big Six, on Trustpilot four have only one star out of five, with shockingly high ‘bad’ ratings (81%, 88%, 92% and – holy mackerel – a truly despairing 95%). The fifth also has one star, with 49% describing them as bad.
And the sixth, curiously, has three stars, despite having a ‘bad’ rating of 39%. So we’re in a situation that, with them disappointing two out of every five customers, they are still head-and-shoulders above the others.
Now, we’re not perfect. No one is. But we have five stars out of five, with 92% describing us as ‘excellent’ and 5% saying ‘great’. Of course, I’m unhappy that 1% only find us ‘average’, 1% find us ‘poor’, and 2% call us ‘bad’.
But, surely, that should be the norm? What kind of topsy-turvy world is it where companies with nearly all their customers finding them ‘bad’ still dominate the market?
One crucial area in which we emulate the pattern of success is with our fair and transparent pricing. Can you imagine how ludicrous it would be if you walked into Topshop or H&M to find that there were no prices on display? And when you asked what the price of an item, you got a shifty look, followed by questions such as “That depends… Have you shopped here before? Or are you a new customer? What did our competitor quote you?”
Yet that is what the Big Six do with their underhand tease and squeeze tactics, giving new customers a cut-price deal, only to jack the price up when their introductory offer runs out. Our message to the market is simple. We believe in fair and transparent pricing that is always good value.
The best marketing messages are the simplest ones. Think of Ronseal’s ‘Does What It Says On The Tin’ or John Lewis’s ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’. We set out to ensure that Octopus would become synonymous with fairness, honesty and good value. The extension of that is that we are on record as opposing sharp practices, and I believe our customers believe us, judging by our Trustpilot reviews and the fact that for two years running, we are the only Which? Recommended Provider out of all energy companies.
Our unique training empowers all of our people to solve 95% of customer queries first time. We put customers first, through technical innovation that does away with the traditional call centres, complex bureaucracy, and the bloated out-of-date technology of the energy sector – to deliver outstanding 100% green energy experiences.
We deliver outstanding customer engagement, within vibrant environments enriched by open collaboration, learning and diversity of gender and thought – in which our people can grow and develop.
We have empowered our energy specialists with access to all elements of customer accounts, so anyone who picks up a query, on any channel (email, social or telephone) can address it fully, first time.
This is empowering for our people, and an unexpected relief for new customers who have never experienced such an efficient and effective service from their energy provider.”
It brings great commercial benefits. One customer told us “I had this problem with another energy company and was on the phone for an hour. You just did it in two minutes!”
Technology lies at the heart of our customer-centric approach. Our highly skilled team is enabled by our proprietary digital platform, Kraken.
Built by our very own engineers, this world-leading online billing and CRM platform allows customers to self-serve; submitting meter readings, booking meter appointments, booking smart meter installations, managing direct debits and editing accounts online. This drives efficiencies, give customers access to whatever they need at a time to suit them, and optimises user experience.
All of our people have access to Kraken, which allows them, through one system and at the touch of a button, to immediately see all aspects of a customer’s account to answer queries swiftly and accurately.
We have consciously striven to embrace diversity, meaning a flexible and creative workforce. Our 30-strong, remote DigiOps Team supports our Leicester team with out-of-hours and digital customer service. We learnt organically that this role attracted highly-qualified women who’d taken time out to have children, and others with diverse needs.
We’ve recruited our first DigiOps man, a customer and Twitter champion of ours. He told us he suffers from anxiety disorders and is often confined to his home. He is now thrilled to work for us. He is awesome, both in productivity and personality, and an example to us all.
We truly embrace our employees for who they are, giving opportunities to develop and lead teams, and we create overwhelming engagement by measuring how happy our customers are – which in turn reflects how engaged our people are too.
We have a retail-inspired customer service philosophy. We’ve racked up phenomenal business results, all while growing a diverse talent base of onsite and offsite customer champions.
We’re rightly proud of our achievements, which include:
- 367% increase in turnover (FYE 2017-18)
- 30,000 new customers a month
- 600,000+ customers
- Only Which? Recommended Energy Supplier (2018 and 2019)
- uSwitch Supplier of the Year 2018
- 9.7/10 TrustPilot rating
With this technology and our systems all in one place, we’ve been able to lower the cost to serve a customer, which gets passed on to them in the form of their energy bill – lower than previous suppliers in the industry.
By putting our customers at the heart of what we do, and not just paying lip-service to doing so, we believe that Octopus Energy is challenging the status quo.
It’s not rocket science. Treat your customers well, get the product right and insist on fair and honest pricing for the long-term, not just some sneaky introductory offer, we believe, and we will attract loyalty. We say, treat your customers as you would like to be treated, and you can’t really go wrong. That’s why 92% of our Trustpilot reviews describe us as ‘excellent’. We’re giving power to the people.
Pete Miller, Co-Founder and Head of Customer Experience at Octopus Energy
Pete co-founded Octopus Energy with like-minded technology entrepreneurs nearly four years ago. He was previously Creative Director of leading London digital agency, Tangent Snowball. He has been working at the intersection of design, emerging tech and human experience for over ten years and is passionate about putting users at the heart of design.