I am probably unique in this cynical world in finding it unfair that the energy suppliers are constantly criticised from every direction regardless of what they try to do for their customers, whether in the I & C or domestic arena.
The above may sound a very naïve thing to say but in my experience of energy suppliers, of electricity and natural gas, they really haven’t lined up with this model of being quite that poor at everything they do and I’ve had the experience of sitting on stakeholder panels for one of the largest supplier companies and I know the significant efforts they make to listen and engage with their customers and the concerns that they have.
They also spend huge amounts of time at executive level trying to get their views across to Government with the intention of helping the consumer.
All energy suppliers receive some level of criticism over 1) their billing accuracy 2) pricing and 3) level of service and I would totally agree that these are highly emotive but it is fair to say that energy is one of the most regulated sectors in the economy so each supplier has to demonstrate to the wider world (and more particularly the regulator), how they are tackling contentious issues and improving customer experience.
Not many industries have to suffer this level of scrutiny or the bureaucracy which it requires to maintain it. In my view not all the improvements achieved are as a result of regulator intervention, more because of suppliers own intent to improve their offering!
Many of the issues which potentially reflect badly on the energy suppliers can be blamed on macro-economic factors, the most serious of which is certainly fuel poverty – a horrendous place to be for anyone but is it really the energy suppliers’ fault that customers cannot afford their commodity based product?
Surely this is more to do with Government policy in many different spheres of welfare and sustenance. It may also be indicative of severe shortfalls in the standards of building energy efficiency and standards whereby the state and local authorities/housing associations could become a lot better at providing energy efficient accommodation to the poorer end of society.
Similarly, in the I & C sector, Government policy will dictate the addition of significant levies to fuel bills for customers to pay for subsidies in the renewables sector. Again, suppliers will be on the front line of defending and administering the fallout from these measures.
From experience as a large I & C customer I have found suppliers generally to be very helpful, hugely mindful of customer service, sensitive to problems and very keen to develop some quite sophisticated and free, services for their customers – to provide improved reporting capabilities, analysis and support customers’ own efforts in the AM & T space. They have also been keen to support customers’ commercial aspirations to develop new ideas in areas like PPA’s, integration of on-site generation as well as being keen to listen to potential partnering opportunities.
I don’t come across many procurement specialists in the I & C space who are having bad experiences with their suppliers. Normally relationships are very positive and ok, probably the same people are responsible for the contracts being in place in the first instance……You tend to reap what you sow.
What I do find is that those people who are very quick to criticise can quite often be accused of divorcing themselves completely from building a relationship with their supplier(s). Placing an all-embracing broker between you and your supplier may not be the best move when there is such potential for building a mutually beneficial relationship.
It begs the question about how many companies make the effort to understand what their energy supplier(s) can do for them? How many ask their supplier what’s available? There are lots of services which are available from their supplier which will help to save energy within their organisation and also point them in the right direction of the type of contract structures which will deliver better pricing for their bespoke situation. They may also get help with renewable energy generation and reducing their own demand at a reasonable cost!
From the supplier side there clearly is a need to promote some of these services – it’s not the answer just to dump them on a website and expect everyone to check it out. From the customer side there’s a responsibility to find out what’s available and build the best solutions for them.
My strong conviction is that the energy suppliers in this country, particularly those who have vertically integrated operations are part of the future solution rather than the problem!
Mervyn Bowden is the MD of Intuitive Energy Solutions