Customers quite rightly have high and ever increasing expectations of service. A customer of Amazon or of first direct is likely to also be a customer of theirs but it doesn’t appear that they have made this connection.
The table below shows a comparison of ovo and npower from TrustPilot (customers) and from glassdoor (current employees). The figures reveal a contrasting picture.
What do we know about the two?
Looking at ovo first. It has c. 690,000 customers and was set up by a group of friends (or customers) who felt that everyone should have an energy supplier that they like and by whom they feel loved. So, their proposition starting point was as a customer for the customer (albeit led by a bright, astute finance professional).
It appears to have worked hard to redefine the customer’s relationship with utility companies. It has done this by treating their customers fairly, being easy to understand, being competitively priced, demonstrating transparency, proactively communicating and engaging with customers and critically, delivering high levels of customer service.
It’s worth noting that the team of friends who started the business only had 3 years of energy experience combined. They weren’t shackled with history, legacy, constraints or blinkered thinking. They began with a clean slate.
ovo aren’t completely problem free. Hearing what its customers have to say, it appears to have issues when their customers have moved to a property and have inherited ovo as a supplier rather than have actively chosen to ‘join’ them.
Now let’s look at npower. It has been reported consistently in the news over several years with losses, job cuts, fines and customer service failings.
It has the challenge of ‘turning a big ship’. In my talks with people who have direct experience of npower, it has been trying to move this wieldy organisation to be more customer focused but efforts are slow when there are so many layers of complexity.
Employees on glassdoor talk about “a pessimistic environment and poor management”, “no strategic plan”, “erratic vision” and “high staff turnover”.
The current CEO (formerly the COO) was appointed in 2015. There is a 2-year recovery plan (along with a ‘Treating Customers Fairly’ report). This plan appears to be focused on fixing some of the well-publicised issues such as chaotic billing systems, failure to resolve customer complaints, process failures in customer service and fragmented departments and systems. It appears to be rightly focusing on the basics, first.
But it appears to be taking time. Caution:
“The longer you wait, the harder it is to produce outstanding customer service.” ~ William H. Davidow
In contrast to ovo, it’s worth noting that until recently the leaders of npower primarily had energy experience.
Towards customer centric change
Without having personal experience of working with npower, I wonder which of the following customer experience or customer success factors are in place and what priority they have within the business:
A CEO committed to the customer and customer value
A fully engaged and collaborative C-Suite
One CX vision & strategy that can deliver value for both customer and business, and which considers npower’s own capabilities and limitations
A deep understanding and focus on the joined-up end to end journey across the customer lifecycle and touch points
A commitment to put the customer at the centre of the organisation with a roadmap for customer experience improvement
An action plan that focuses on fixing the basics and the customer journey that is broken, before delight and innovation can be considered
CX principles and customer promises that guide leadership, management and frontline decision making and execution within the business
One unified framework that underpins all CX initiatives and accountability to prioritise, steer resources and measure the right projects
A focus on engagement of the wider organisation, stakeholders and employees
As Simon Virley, Head of Power and Utilities, KPMG UK pointed out:
So, what of the future for these two companies (and their customers)
What sets these two companies apart in my mind? My sense is that one of them is agile and innovative with commitment to the customer at the very top. It runs business through the lens of the customer and places the customer firmly at the heart of their organisation. Yes, there are all sorts of reasons why that is easier for a start up with no legacy or history and even a different basis for regulation – but it is the case nonetheless.
In my opinion, the other has been asset focused - generating business value by treating their ‘captive’ customers as a number or a transaction to whom they ‘supply’. Customers who don’t need the care, consideration or attention that should be afforded to a relationship. It appears to have been slow to recognise the need to be customer focused, to have greater agility to make customer oriented change and that ownership for this must be owned at the top and then ruthlessly executed throughout the organisation.
Out of natural curiosity and passion for improving experiences for customers, I’d love to use our Customer Alignment Model™ to assess or audit where npower is right now to see:
where things are improving and where not, and why
what it can do that is achievable within its own structure, capability and culture
what it needs to do to ensure that the customer is at the heart of the entire organisation, from top to bottom
how it can ensure that change takes place at the pace that is required and that is sustainable
As for ovo, keep doing what you are doing – innovating and disrupting in the energy market. Keep the fresh approach with customers and employees firmly at the heart of what you do - whilst seeking to better understand the customers who inherit you.
If we were to compare the energy sector to that of aviation, Richard Branson summed it up very well:
“Look, I think that when we started Virgin Atlantic 30 years ago, we had one 747 competing with the airlines that had an average of 300 planes each. Every single one of those have gone bankrupt because they didn’t have customer service. They had might, but they didn’t have customer service, so customer service is everything in the end.”
What will the energy sector look like in 10, 20 or 30 years if things don’t change?
would suggest that companies should not focus exclusively on efficiency, simplicity and optimisation of the rational and functional elements of the customer journey; they alone do not make up the whole customer experience.
Sometimes, change and customer experience optimisation is about baby steps. Sometimes, small steps can result in bigger leaps, or compounded marginal gains. For some organisations, this is a more realistic and successful approach than the implementation of a big CX transformation programme with a well-constructed business case, where the results may be similar in the end.
first direct have recognised that what set them apart for many years – their superior customer service, is not enough to stay ahead. first direct are constantly seeking to improve the basics and at the same time invest in innovation centred on the customer. Customer work, at first direct, is never done.
Taking a value based approach to CX and designing customer research that can identify the value within each journey, will help provide the business with a graded shortlist of things to focus on, fix and improve. It can also use it as a framework by which to judge existing initiatives around the business that impact on the customer experience.
The airline industry is a highly competitive one. Technology, hand in hand with a human touch, will deliver better experiences for customers. The challenge is in the alignment of the culture, processes, systems and capability of the organisation, with the needs of customers in a way that employees are empowered and engaged to deliver. That goes for at any point in their customer experience, but is even more of a priority in times or disruption.
Customers need their experiences to be seamless and without friction. Importantly, they also hope that any problem will be proactively owned and resolved quickly and satisfactorily by the company or organisation with whom they are interacting.
When talking about touch points and channels, we refer most often to those within our control e.g. the call centre, email, the physical store, social media. We don’t often consider those which are delivered by another organisation for example a business partner. Companies seem only too ready to hand over responsibility for the customer to their partner. Yet some seem quick to blame them when things go wrong and act as judge and jury when their NPS scores, say, are not up to scratch. Delegating companies often seem to want it
What Alamo have done is they have not only managed to improve the customer journey and eradicate pain points or friction but have succeeded in elevating the customer experience and at the same time, become more operationally efficient. Smiles all round.
If we were to compare the energy sector to that of aviation, Richard Branson summed it up very well: “Look, I think that when we started Virgin Atlantic 30 years ago, we had one 747 competing with the airlines that had an average of 300 planes each. Every single one of those have gone bankrupt because they didn’t have customer service. They had might, but they didn’t have customer service, so customer service is everything in the end.” What will the energy sector look like in 10, 20 or 30 years if things don’t change?
AI in its current form is only part of the solution. AI requires a deeper understanding of customer needs so that it is an enabler rather than the answer for its own sake. The balance of AI vs. human interactions in the Customer Experience needs to be carefully orchestrated.