A very encouraging meeting with the Government

By Chris Gauld, CEO, Spark Energy

I was at Downing Street this week (Wednesday) representing Spark Energy, with the CEOs of other small and specialist energy companies, to meet Energy Minister Ed Davey.

We discussed how the industry should change to support the desires of customers – something which small suppliers like us are desperately keen and better able to deliver.

I’m frustrated that some of the inner workings of the industry get in the way of delivering even better customer service (we are delighted to be ranked above all of the Big Six by Which? – and have ambitions to go even further) and that the challenges that face the small supplier and their customer is yet to be made a priority. We have to ensure that the industry works from a technical perspective and that the lights stay on, but this doesn’t have to be at the cost of customer experience.

We had a really good three hour session. I think I probably said “start with what the customer wants” too many times, but it was nice to have the chance to share our views.

I’m not really interested in grabbing a soundbite with a poorly conceived offering or a headline grabbing claim, such as to speed up switching immediately, if underneath the systems aren’t in place to deliver a better customer experience as a result. That’s got “own goal” written all over it.

I’m more concerned with redesigning parts of our industry so that there are fewer complexities getting in the way of delivering on our promises (see my blog on 24-hour switching for an example). At Spark we are willing to drive this change and it’s really positive that the Government and others are listening.

Ed Davey has backed faster switching, and I’m supportive of that. But while this backing is very important, it’s up to the industry to make it happen, and I don’t just mean the energy suppliers like ourselves, I also mean the companies in the supply chain. The whole industry has to change to put the people who buy our gas and electricity at the heart of what we do, and that means a process of continually asking our customers what they want and how we can make it work. Spark will continue to do that.

I passionately believe that “different is good” and that not all customers want and need the same things. It’s important that there are different options out there for customers to choose from. “One size fits all” just means that no-one gets what they really want. As a specialist niche supplier (albeit one who has serviced over 300,000 customers), I want an industry that seeks out, supports and champions companies who bring a fresh approach with the needs of their specific customers at the heart of what they do. I’m not sure we have that right now and worry that certain industry processes and rules have the opposite effect. 

Finding a niche and offering a different service is what has made us successful at Spark Energy and allowed us to bring lower prices and better service as standard to an otherwise ignored section of the market. But ours is a tremendously complicated and expensive industry to enter and to drive change in, so the shake-up that’s happening in our industry could really help companies like us and really open up competition in the energy sector.

I’ll be fascinated to see if any of our ideas are taken forward and the Government has promised there will be follow up on the session and what will happen next.

In return I can promise that Spark is totally committed to any process which better allows us to put our customers’ needs at the heart of what we do, and to offer new and exciting services which save them time, hassle and money.

This is what “bringing energy to life” is all about and we are proud of the lower prices, better service and new offerings which we now deliver. We will continue to be fully involved in the debate – to the benefit of our customers.

Watch this space…

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