The Sonnen acquisition is a clear signal that the energy sector is transitioning, with companies eager to display their credentials as customer-focused, clean energy leaders. But is this enough to meet the often diverse and challenging needs of customers across the UK? And is it possible for utilities to truly keep up with customer expectations while also maintaining profit margins?
For Laura Sandys, CEO of consultancy Challenging Ideas, the answer is a resounding yes. “Utilities can most certainly [meet customer expectations and maintain profits] if they add value to their consumers lives and take away all the hassle,” she insists. “Intermediaries and those who are building new value around energy will make great margins – those that continue to sell vanilla energy without any added value will become tightly squeezed commodity companies.”
To break the shackles of “vanilla” services and tired business strategies, utilities are turning to their customers for greater insight into their current expectations and future needs. While there are a raft of new customer engagement panels and groups being established across the utilities sector, diversity and inclusion must be made a priority so that such panels are truly representative, says Matthew Vickers, chief executive and chief ombudsman, Ombudsman Services.
“For individual providers, it comes down to listening to your customers, understanding their ever-changing needs and demonstrating that they have a voice that is valued and listened to. This isn’t just the right thing to do, it makes good business sense as it will aid customer retention,” insists Vickers. “Consumers will shape the future of the industry, whether utilities like it or not.”
For utilities to innovate and transition successfully, engaging consumers and winning their trust and confidence is crucial. And a key part of that relationship is delighting customers with an excellent service and facilitating a rigorous complaint-handling process that ensures any problems are fixed quickly when they do arise. Vickers adds: “By paying the right level of attention to complaints, utilities can spot trends and make improvements to how they serve customers.”
The growing emphasis on customer centricity across utilities is hugely encouraging. This commitment to engaging and empowering customers as they embrace new technologies and seek more choice from utilities could well be the remedy to an unsettling period that has seen many firms battling market uncertainty and slipping profits.