How do we delight and engage our customers?

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve taken part in talks at the Westminster Forum and the Utility Week Congress discussing the challenges energy suppliers like SSE face operating for customers in a highly regulated and scrutinised industry. I want to take the opportunity to share some of what I presented.

At SSE we deliver an essential service customers need for their everyday lives. We have a duty of care and it’s absolutely right we are carefully scrutinised by government, the regulator and the public. The industry has just undergone a wide ranging and thorough investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) whose aim was to find out if the energy market was working for customers.

At the same event, Roger Whitcomb, the chair of the CMA’s inquiry, said there were two possible broad conclusions the CMA could have reached: either the market is unfixable and strict regulation and conformity across the sector is required, killing competition and engagement; or competition can work and should be further encouraged by remedies focusing on opening up the market and helping customers shop around and become more engaged with their energy use.

After the two-year inquiry the CMA reached the second conclusion: that in many key areas the market was functioning well and therefore competition can work. It therefore presented a number of recommendations for how the industry could improve, choosing to encourage competition and boost customer engagement in the energy market.

Even though many customers contact their supplier each year, in reality it tends to be about half of our customers. And unfortunately, most of the time it’s because they’ve had a problem. As a result, most customer engagement starts from a negative position making it harder to encourage customers to positively engage and get the most out of what we have on offer.

We work hard to provide customers with the best service possible and offer them products and services that will excite them. We have built a customer-centric business around our service and the value of putting the current and futures needs of customers at the heart of everything we do. We always measure whether new initiatives will encourage more customers to recommend SSE to a friend than advise against.  

Our analysis has shown we have to make it easier for customers to engage with us. That’s why we have been investing in digital platforms, apps and new ways of contacting us. We’ve also invested heavily in our brand and sponsorship, giving the company an identity customers can engage with and providing more value for money, with priority tickets for concerts and events, for example. While this may all seem a bit strange for a utility company, we know we have to act as a retailer and engage with customers on a personal level to be successful in the long term. That’s why our vision is to become a market leading retailer of energy and essential home services.  

This customer-centric approach has also helped SSE to lead the industry on service and complaints. SSE’s customer service teams have an incredibly thorough approach to resolving complaints and have topped the Citizen’s Advice complaints handling league table many times. Our teams go above and beyond to make sure any issues customers have are resolved quickly and efficiently and we’re immensely proud to have consistently improved our complaints handling score quarter after quarter.  

But offering good service isn’t just about fixing problems. I’ve already said we want to do more than just respond to customers when they have an issue. That’s why we train our staff to offer the best service to all of our customers and constantly look for new ways to improve. We want to delight our customers by offering more resources, extending our opening hours and tailoring our service to address their individual needs. We also recently announced we are working with the British Standards Institute to make sure we can adapt our service to meet all of our customers’ needs.

It’s this holistic view of the service we offer that helps up engage with our customers. We provide an essential service but we know we have to add value to our customers’ lives – at SSE we constantly remind ourselves that we’re not just selling a product; we’re addressing customers’ needs.

About the author

Will Morris Group Managing Director, Retail

Will Morris is Group Managing Director of SSE's Retail business, having joined the company in 2012 from Intercontinental Hotels Group, where he had been Chief Operating Officer. Will has spent 22 years in blue chip customer facing service businesses - including British Airways and the Walt Disney Company - both in the UK and internationally. At SSE, Will has Management Board-level responsibility for our business in energy supply and energy-related services, working towards the long-term goal of making SSE the number one supplier of energy and related services.

Read more articles by Will Morris