Pamela Conway is the first to admit that many British Gas customers simply don't want to talk to the company. As Director of P&L Marketing and Loyalty for the utility supplier, she knows that for most people, energy consumption is something that happens in the background of their lives. They get their bill, pay it, and that's about it. So how do you create great customer service and experience in an environment where people don't want to interact?
That's one of the biggest challenges facing Pam. But conversely, it's also an area that provides a challenge that people can get very passionate about, whether that's talking about the environment or price rises. It goes to show that building customer loyalty for British Gas customers is complex. Pam boils down to a simple formula: deliver a consistently excellent customer experience, add on a layer of value that is above and beyond expectations, and – finally – reward.
"On the service side we can give great customer experiences," said Pam. "People with a broken down boiler are always incredibly grateful when engineers come to resolve their problem quickly and efficiently. But not everybody's boiler breaks down every year. These opportunities to create long lasting relationships are few and far between so we have to be a bit more creative about how we think about loyalty."
This is where the formula comes in. British Gas has been working very hard on customer experience; such as making sure engineers clear up after themselves so you wouldn't know they had been there.
In terms of adding value, it now has areas on its website giving tips for saving energy, as well as energy efficiency reviews for the home, and even sponsors British Swimming Teams by rolling out a programme to encourage people to go swimming.
"It's about great customer service and what can we do on top of that to fulfil our promise of looking after your world," said Pam.
Finally, it rewards customers through the Nectar scheme. "We looked at creating our own reward scheme, but again the challenge was that there are only so many interactions. With Nectar we had five million people enrolled in year one, two million enrolled in the first two months. There are a lot of people out there who see the value in it."
In terms of building digital loyalty, Pam sees digital as a channel and medium to deliver the formula for loyalty. "Going back to customer experience, in terms of making things easier, digital plays a massive part. I don't believe digital in itself is a driver of loyalty, it is a medium from which to drive those three primary things."
A web chat facility for people is just one of the ways it helps customers.
"Anywhere where people can get passionate is a space where you can get loyalty," said Pam. "It is how you deal with those customers. Anybody who has a good experience will talk about it and they will feel good about it and feel a little bit more positive towards that brand and therefore a little bit more loyal to that brand. The challenge is doing it on a scale like areas. Energy companies have a harder job than anyone else doing that."
Pam believes the introduction of Smart Meters will make a fundamental difference to the way people think about energy. People will be able to see how much energy they're consuming and how they're using it.
Another way British Gas has tried to improve its customer service is by redesigning its bill. "If you put up the old bill versus the new one, they are light years apart in terms of look and feel and ease of navigation." Regulatory requirements mean there's a lot of information that has to be on there, but the bill will tell customers if they could be on a cheaper tariff and how much money they would save. "We've seen a massive increase in our net promoter score," said Pam.
Pamela Conway will be at this year's Europe's Customer Festival as part of a panel discussion on increasing customer retention through agile customer engagement strategies. As Director of P&L Marketing and Loyalty for Centrica-owned British Gas, which serves over 12 million UK homes, she's in a perfect position to understand the best way to engage with customers.
You can also get a great run down of this and other interviews and case studies, including Aimia’s Jan-Pieter Lips, in Total Customer’s completely free Little Book of Loyalty.