Creating strong connections with our customers

Andrew Huthwaite is  Director of Commercial and Connections for Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN)

As a company we pride ourselves in our engineering traditions, building on our heritage as the responsible custodian of the electricity networks in the north of Scotland and central southern England. This legacy is important but it does not describe the business we are today – one that is wholly focused on delivering for our customers.

Engaging and working collaboratively with our customers is integral to our electricity distribution networks business plan and, ultimately, the way we run our business. By listening to customer views, we can use this valuable feedback to make practical improvements to our processes and look to improve upon the services we offer.

This requirement for improved customer and stakeholder engagement is also recognised by our regulator Ofgem, through the RIIO-ED1 price control, which in simple terms is our regulated contract with Ofgem and our customers, which sets out how we operate and what our customers can expect of us.

One area of stakeholder engagement of particular importance is the Incentive on Connections Engagement (ICE), a penalty only incentive introduced by Ofgem in 2015.  ICE encourages Distribution Network Operators to engage with larger demand and generation connection customers to understand and meet their needs and make practical improvements in how we provide connections to our network.

The needs of our connection customers’ can range from advice and improvements related to standard connections to the electricity network of properties and businesses; unmetered connections, for example local authority street lighting; helping electricity generators, such as solar and wind farms, looking to export their energy to the grid; to more innovative approaches that may be required when local grids are at capacity and a more flexible, creative approach is needed.  

To help us improve connecting our customers we have developed a bespoke strategy through a range of initiatives with our customers and other stakeholders.  This includes regular Connections Surgeries, Connections Engagement days and contact through direct communication channels such as our website. To oversee our strategy we have also introduced a Customer Connections Steering Panel which meets biannually, in both our north of Scotland and central south England networks.  

The steering panel, which launched in September 2015, brings together independent, external experts representing all customer groups, from house builders to renewable energy developers.  The role of the steering panel is to challenge our processes and make and assess recommendations as to how we can improve upon and ultimately make it easier for our generation and demand customers to connect to our network.

The latest panel meeting took place yesterday in Basingstoke and it was a good opportunity to test our procedures and initiatives with our panel of experts to help identify where we can go further in making our connections journey as simple as it can be.  It was also a great opportunity for me personally, to hear first-hand the views and suggestions from these customers and understand where we are making improvements to these relationships. We’ll also be offering stakeholders in our north of Scotland distribution area the opportunity to participate in a similar session on 28 February in Perth.

The expectation on network companies to do more for customers has never been greater and we must continue to rise to that challenge.  In the first year of ICE we performed well against our incentive and we continue to make significant strides in improving the connections experience for our customers.  We must continue this drive for continual improvement and place the customer at the heart of everything we do.  

Indeed, learning from our customers will be the key to our success. At SSEN we are committed to understanding the concerns and recommendations of our customers and I would strongly encourage anyone to get in touch with any ideas or feedback you may have.  

We are listening.

To find out more, visit the connections section of our website https://www.ssen.co.uk/Connections/