New Energy: The rise of the distinctive customer experience

Net zero, global crises, and soaring prices – over the past few years the energy sector has been challenged on every front. We are all well aware of how the energy landscape has changed, but perhaps a less-spoken-about aspect of its transformation is the customer experience. Not too long ago the only interaction with your provider would be the odd bill in the post. Energy companies were perceived as utilities, not brands, and as a customer, the relationship you had with your provider – if you could even call it a relationship – was purely transactional. Presented with a sea of barely indistinguishable choices, switching providers was a rare event and when it did happen, the only real deciding factor was price. Fast-forward to now and customers are expecting more of energy companies than ever before. Yes, we want a straightforward supplier, but we’re also looking for reassurance at a time of great unease. The role an energy provider plays in our lives matters, and if it doesn’t meet the mark, there’s a new breed of provider ready to take its place.  

Enter Octopus

The first of the new UK energy players focused on building a distinctive customer experience was probably Bulb, founded in 2013. At launch, the company’s distinctive aesthetic, intuitive digital experience, and clear sustainability point of view were a fresh take on how an energy provider could behave. Suddenly, it sounded like a human being was communicating with you, and not just at the end of a phone (and a thirty-minute wait). By 2022 however the business became a casualty of the energy crisis, and the UK government approved an agreement between Bulb and Octopus Energy to absorb Bulb’s 1.5 million customers. Since that pivotal moment, Octopus’ reputation has gone from strength to strength, culminating in being named the best UK energy supplier by customers in a Which? Survey of 10,000 people for the sixth consecutive time earlier this year. It was reported that Octopus was “the only provider to receive a five-star rating in any category, with customers awarding five stars for usefulness of information about energy costs. It received four-star ratings for every other category.”

The building blocks of great customer experience

At Caffeine, we refer to ‘brilliant basics’ and ‘memorable moments’ as a simple way of thinking about the foundation of a great customer experience. Together these two facets of the experience allow an organisation to differentiate itself from competitors. First by degree, ensuring it delivers against the basic customer expectations brilliantly well at key stages in the customer journey, and then by doing something unique, creating memorable moments and experiences that can’t be found elsewhere. Octopus is a great example of this in action. The app and online dashboard allow customers to review all the fundamentals, from usage to bills and account balances, as well as make updates like submitting meter readings and moving home. Because it’s simple and intuitive to use, it both builds confidence in the provider and invites more active participation from the customer, ultimately closing the gap for misunderstanding and miscommunication.

But unlike the vast majority of companies that might have stopped there, Octopus go further to make the experience not just satisfactory, but memorable. When you submit a meter reading, you get to spin the Wheel of Fortune with the chance of winning anywhere from £1 to £152 in energy credit. This creative and cost-effective solution helps solve the historic problem of estimated bills and makes the mundane act of meter reading submission, fun. Throughout all communications, the brand tone of voice manages to tread that fine line between being clear and engaging, without forced closeness or inappropriate informality. Maybe it’s not for everyone but signing off an energy statement email with ‘Love and power’ is just quite funny.

Build the experience and customers will follow

Delivering a great experience hasn’t just brought Octopus accolades and recognition, it also gives the business license to evolve its offering, taking its loyal and happy customers along for the ride. Octopus recently launched the electric vehicle (EV) roaming service, Electroverse, providing EV drivers with ‘one-tap access’ to thousands of automatic charge points, handling all bills directly. It’s a great example of the business’s commitment to customer experience extending into new services that add real value to the customer. Thanks to brilliant basics, memorable moments, and staying true to its purpose of ‘making energy fair, clean, and simple for all using technology’, Octopus is now an energy company with all the influence and advocacy of a leading lifestyle brand.

We’re always on the lookout for distinctive customer experiences, so if you have any great examples of brilliant basics or memorable moments you’ve encountered, we’d love to know!

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