by the Energy Charter
Australia’s energy sector is undergoing rapid change. Pressure is building to deliver reliable, affordable, safe and sustainable energy for consumers, while making the necessary investments to support transformation from fossil-fuelled centralised generation to renewable and distributed energy.
Within this transition, there is a unique opportunity to align with social licence and consumer expectations. This is an ambitious cultural change piece and requires transparency, accountability and #BetterTogether collaboration.
The need to restore trust
As the energy sector grapples with these opportunities, many Australians have been frustrated and distrusting of energy companies. In 2019, the sector experienced all-time low levels of consumer trust and confidence in the face of growing affordability and equity issues.
However, things appear to be improving. The Energy Consumers Australia sentiment survey in June 2021 found:
• Over 80 per cent of respondents were satisfied with the provision of their gas and electricity
• Over 70 per cent of respondents found that energy billing and usage information was clear and simple to understand
• Over 70 per cent of respondents were satisfied that energy was value for money
These positive sentiments reflect a very different picture to when the Energy Charter first started three years ago – with an almost doubling of the number of satisfied energy consumers.
While this jump in satisfaction is due to many factors, the Energy Charter in itself signals the significant culture shift that is afoot.
Transparency and accountability
Transparency and accountability to customers is key for the sector. As a whole-of-sector CEO-led collaboration across 25 businesses, the Energy Charter signatories commit to five principles:
1. We will put customers at the centre of our business and the energy system
2. We will improve energy affordability for customers
3. We will provide energy safely, sustainably and reliably
4. We will improve the customer experience
5. We will support customers facing vulnerable circumstances
Every year, signatories publicly disclose how they are delivering against these principles through public disclosures, stakeholder forums and CEO interviews through an Independent Accountability Panel (IAP) process.
More than 50 stakeholders attended the recent IAP forums and provided rich feedback and diverse insights. Key issues raised included:
• Ensuring that nobody is left behind in the energy transition
• Who bears the cost of transition?
• The importance of genuine and authentic engagement with landholders and communities to build social licence
• The interplay between vulnerable communities being impacted the hardest by climate change
• The need for energy efficiency measures and other support for customers in vulnerable circumstances, as the impacts of COVID continue to be felt
• Leveraging COVID supports for customers as business-as-usual
Stakeholders noted improvements in engagement with customers through feedback loops, communications and action, including for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.
Signatories were encouraged to continue to focus on ‘lighthouse on the hill’ examples, impact and outcomes for customers.
Signatories are deeply committed to co-designing #BetterTogether collaborative initiatives that:
• Focus on customer pain points and co-design opportunities through a human-centred design innovation framework to deliver better outcomes
• Drive customer-centric culture change deeper within the energy sector, creating a community of change champions across the sector
There have been a number of #BetterTogether initiatives this year, together with the signing of a historic water and energy (WE) memorandum of understanding with the water sector to align on customer outcomes.
The focus has been to drive robust and fit-for-purpose customer, community and stakeholder engagement activities to shape business culture and decision-making based on the voice of the customer.
Businesses have engaged with consumer advocates to co-create practical resources that highlight examples of better customer engagement through:
• Shared Learning Customer Engagement Platform
• Better Practice Engagement Toolkit
• Better Practice Guide for Customer Advocacy Support
“Boards have a vital role to play in ensuring the customer voice is appropriately influencing the strategic decision-making and direction of our energy businesses.”
– Kathy Hirschfeld AM, Chair, Powerlink Queensland
Customer voice at the board level
This initiative launched the ‘Customer Voice @ Board’ resource, with better practice options for businesses to ensure the customer voice is appropriately influencing the strategic decision-making and direction of their businesses.
The resource contains examples of better practice engagement with customers and their representatives by existing board members.
Landholder and community engagement better practice
The Better Practice Landholder and Community Engagement Guide was launched with the National Farmers’ Federation as a guide for landholders and communities on what to expect when businesses engage about energy assets, particularly those critical for energy transition.
• Shares the high-level principles that help guide engagement
• Assists in the management of business impacts on landholders and communities
• Guides mutual value opportunities which may exist
Through our 12-month Deloitte COVID-19 Customer Vulnerability Research, we learnt that while optimism in the general population is improving, there were ongoing negative impacts on the emotional and financial wellbeing of customers.
Initiatives for additional support for customers included the Voices for Power “Train the Trainer” program in CALD communities, knocking on customers’ doors to avoid energy disconnections, and collaborating on awareness communications, including ‘We’ve got you’, to let customers know what support is available to them.
Recently, signatories committed over $1.5 million over the next 12 months to deliver and augment a range of programs across Australia, including with community organisations such as Uniting, to step up support for customers in vulnerable circumstances.
Culture change gaining momentum
As the energy sector transforms, alignment with community expectations remains critical. Consumers expect authenticity from business leaders. Sustained culture change towards customer centricity within the energy sector will take time.
More work needs to be done to shift to a customer-centric mindset and increase the customer voice. However, the power of collaborative engagement through the Energy Charter and its #BetterTogether initiatives is gaining momentum.
Genuine engagement with customers and communities, together with driving tangible customer improvements is essential in this ‘customers at the centre’ journey.
ABOUT THE ENERGY CHARTER
The Energy Charter is an industry and customer-led, world-first, whole-of-sector initiative to address customer expectations. Its vision is that together, we will deliver energy for a better Australia. The purpose of the Energy Charter is to progress the culture and solutions needed to deliver a more affordable, reliable and sustainable energy system for all Australians in line with community expectations. Energy Charter full signatories include: ActewAGL, Aurora Energy, APA, Ausgrid, Australian Gas Infrastructure Group, CS Energy, Endeavour Energy, EnergyAustralia, Energex, Energy Queensland, Ergon Energy, Essential Energy, Horizon Power, Jemena, Ovida, Powershop, Powerlink Queensland, Stanwell, TasNetworks, Transgrid and Yurika.
#BetterTogether collaborators include: SA Power Networks and Simply Energy. Energy Charter Supporters include the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO).