Wasted energy: Pulling the plug on complexity in the gas and electricity market

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It’s the issue that has everyone in the UK talking—from influential customer groups such as Consumer Focus and Which? to Rosie Murray-West of The Telegraph, whose opinion piece on her laughable £1700 EDF three-month energy bill (it was revised to £341 after she confronted the company) reinforced the furor surrounding the ‘complex and unfair’ bills delivered by the ‘big six’ energy companies. Ofgem, the Office of the Gas and Electricity Markets, recently ruled that energy companies are “greedy” and have cheated consumers by overcharging them and making their bills too complicated.

If the recent banking crisis taught us anything, it was that increased transparency and responsibility within businesses was imperative for the future—a lesson that seems to have been largely ignored by energy companies. Unfortunately for them, the consequences are now being felt in full force.

What this comes down to is a renewed emphasis on the need for ‘simplicity’—within tariffs, communications, policies and indeed the entire customer experience. Complexity only serves to confuse and frustrate and, as in this instance, when used for manipulative gain, results in a complete erosion of consumer trust.

A look at the websites of several of the “big six” reveals commonalities in values—’integrity’, ‘respect’ and complete customer satisfaction are the buzz words of the day. Such values are now utterly laughable in the face of Ofgem’s investigation. Acting at complete odds with what they publicly stand for has undermined these brands and directly affected consumer perception (as seen in the Which? customer satisfaction survey), something that is no doubt currently being felt at the bottom line.

But all is not lost. Despite an enormous backlash, this situation presents a real opportunity for all energy brands, as well as any other company.

Address the problem, lead the curve

Be transparent. Hiding behind complicated press releases and waiting for the worst to blow over further frustrates consumers and industry insiders alike through a lack of clear messaging and true accountability. Get ahead of the curve by addressing the issue head on.

Be proactive—reinforce your brand values

Rather than waiting for regulators to force your arm, take positive action yourself. It’s never too late to highlight and reinforce important brand values.

Be human—cultivate true consumer relationships

Consider how consumers are really feeling and promote two-way conversations with them. Let your customers in and, most importantly, let them know what’s going on.

Simplify, simplify, simplify

Simple is smart. The most important lesson to be learned here is that overt complexity breeds frustration and stands in the way of true brand advocacy. Simplifying your brand—communications, behaviours and overall experience—will allow you to reconnect with your audience on a more relevant and potent level.

And finally, a brand should be able to deliver on its promises. If it can’t, the truth will eventually come out.

Laura Tarbox is a strategy analyst for the Siegel+Gale London office.

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