From left: Dr. Friðrik Larsen, Natasha Crowe, Craig Tropea, and Steven Murray

In the session, moderated by Dr. Friðrik Larsen, Founder of CHARGE and brandr, the panel members Natasha Crowe, Head of Marketing & PR at Octopus Energy, Craig Tropea, VP Sales and Marketing at Customized Energy Solutions, and Steven Murray, Co-Founder of Firefly Energy Solutions are asked to consider how innovation informs their brand, but also how their brand approach and consumer touchpoints influence their journey towards a digitized, decarbonized, smarter and more flexible future. They questioned how energy companies can balance, and reconcile the need to innovate at speed, with ensuring they continue to meet rising consumer expectations for service and experience.

The moderator, Dr. Larsen asked the panel what a future proofed company looks like. Natasha from Octopus begins with saying her brand has three pillars. First, they are built on a proprietary tech system which they call Kraken. Kraken allows them to simplify everything that they do to create an incredible customer experience and automates all of the supply chain through AI. Second, they take trust and how consumers feel about them very seriously so they invest a lot of time, money and resources into it. They’re able to do that, because so much of the tech has been automated as well. Thirdly, they ensure that they are accessible to all communities and invite everyone to take part in our services, not just specific niche audiences. Craig from CES sees a future proofed company from a slightly different angle since he works for a software and consulting company that provides services to energy companies. He, however, concurs with Natasha about the importance of being as diverse as possible and offering as many choices as possible and you want to be seen as a trusted partner or advisor to your customers. If you have this the rest will fall in line. Steven from Firefly begins with saying that in a broad spectrum, energy companies are not doing a very good job for their customers because in general, people are disinterested in our products and our prices because they are a necessity of life for them. He thinks we’ve got to go back to the start and look at the data that is actually available. And there’s lots of data available. He says “I think our industry is about to be really disrupted and I don’t know that you can future proof the people who are the dinosaurs” indicating that new entrants such as Octopus will be the ones to disrupt the energy industry.

Craig from CES then jumps in with a follow up question to Steven asking if from his perspective, it is about the data analytics, which tells you something about that consumer that you then can take action on? Steven answers that the only question that energy consumers are being asked is if they can pay their bill reliably every month, everything else is generally not used, or mashed into an average. But if you have a big data capable solution you can actually aggregate that data and create a really accurate forecast for the entire area. If you really could engage with your customers, they could make cost effective investments that would save them more than 30% of their current energy bill, even 50-60% if they are low income people. If you put things like smart energy, thermostats, LED light bulbs etc. into low income homes you’re making an immediate impact on energy consumption. He mentions that he feels that there needs to be a bigger conversation about low income homes. Natasha agrees with Steven that a decentralized and a diversified approach is key and adds that all too often when a company makes savings, those savings are not passed on to the consumer. This is especially important for specific groups of consumers. The only way we’re going to affect change is if consumers actually feel it, and realize if they take this action this company is actually going to reward me for it so I’m going to continue to take this action. Yes, we want people to feel good about taking action but we also want them to actually reap some reward from it other than good feelings.

Steven from Firefly chimes in with an example from the energy industry comparing millennials that don’t work in the house during the day to empty nesters staying at home all day and are absolutely using power all of the day. Normally, if you could sell the millennials negative price power, would they ever churn? Imagine the customer value proposition that you could market very specifically to those individual customers. That would be a radically different situation than we have at the moment where all consumers are mashed up in a big heap and nobody knows which is which. That’s a choice. Many other industries have already gone through this data extraction, this data specificity.

Data extraction and understanding how data can change the way that you interact with consumers and the service that you can provide for them is a huge shift. This is not a part of the company culture for “the dinosaur companies” and for them this shift can be tough. For newer companies, such as Octopus, it’s less of a transformation as they are hiring from the ground up and people automatically become a part of this culture according to Natasha. Craig then brings up that the culture shift can be tough but what about the financial side to it? It could be expensive for “the dinosaurs” to incorporate all their data from what could be multiple legacy systems and, therefore, hard to convince them to undertake this shift. They all agree that the diversity of services they are able to offer should be enough to convince them. The ability to add new features and offer things for customers in a way that you weren’t able to before, gives you the opportunity to continue to be the low cost provider for specific segments of the population, while at the same time offering technologies that the tech savvy individuals are interested in.

But you cannot just create a product and expect people to come to you for it. If you understand when and where the gap is in the market, create a good product for that gap and market it well they won’t necessarily come either. What also needs to be in the mix is trust. The moderator then asks the panelists how to know when exactly the right time is to introduce new tech to consumers in a conservative industry. Steven goes first in saying that he thinks you just have to go out there and try. Natasha chimes in by saying it should be when consumer pain points reach a certain limit. Craig then adds that you don’t necessarily need to be the first company bringing the new product to market. Sometimes the second or third company can take advantage of having gathered the data and done the research, can easily see what’s working and what isn’t working and, therefore, produce a better product. 

The moderator ends the session with a question from the audience – how can we be sure we can fulfill the needs of the emerging customer generations who have different relationships with the companies, lower earning capacity etc.? Natasha from Octopus says the first thing is safeguarding the actual environment in which they even live. Therefore, decarbonisation should be our mission and to do that we need to electrify everything and pull onto renewable energy. Second, it is doing research and understanding consumers through data and actually hearing it and acting on it, as opposed to making assumptions about what people need. To this Craig from CES adds doing all this and being as transparent about it as possible.

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