Everyone can agree that losing power is an unwelcome disruption. Life is less comfortable when you can’t watch TV and there’s no hot water for a warm shower. But if you are a vulnerable customer, a loss of power can be more than just an inconvenience. You may not have the money to replace the groceries that spoil during a lengthy outage. Or you may face a serious medical crisis if you rely on electricity to keep a heart monitor or oxygen machine operating.
Alex Wilkes, WPD’s stakeholder engagement manager, understands this. And that’s why he’s made the support of at-risk customers a priority. “WPD has a comprehensive social obligations strategy and program to support our most vulnerable customers and tackle wider issues such as fuel poverty,” Wilkes said.
Indeed, WPD’s commitment in this area — and to serving all of its customers — has earned the company high honors. For the fifth-straight year, WPD has ranked in the top position in the Ofgem Stakeholder Engagement and Consumer Vulnerability Incentive.
This independent government authority ranks energy providers on their ability to engage proactively with their customers to anticipate their needs and deliver socially responsible, sustainable energy. WPD received the top rating because it has an outstanding track record of engaging with customers and addressing the needs of those who are vulnerable (individuals who may be disabled, chronically sick, low-income or elderly).
To receive its high ranking, WPD needed to demonstrate how it constantly communicates with its customers to improve its service both immediately and in the long term. The company collects feedback on an ongoing basis via customer panels, workshops, consultations, surveys, education events, awareness campaigns and social media.
“Meaningful engagement is not achieved overnight — we build enduring relationships with stakeholders over time,” Wilkes said. “We earn their trust that we take feedback seriously, and it leads to action. Stakeholder knowledge grows, enabling us to discuss topics in greater detail, which in turn leads to more robust feedback.”
WPD also needed to show that it takes action and delivers. Despite a year of unprecedented storms in which 239,397 customers lost power, WPD delivered best-in-class customer service: Ninety-nine percent of customers were restored within 12 hours, and WPD was rated No. 1 for customer service in the U.K. in the months that had the most severe storms.
In 2016, WPD launched a $74,200 Affordable Warmth Local Action to give funding to programs that tackle the issue of fuel poverty. There are now 14 fuel-poverty programs in place, which are on track to help 11,000 customers save nearly $2.5 million per year. WPD also maintains a database of vulnerable customers, which enables the company to refer struggling customers to agencies that can provide assistance. From 2015-16, WPD proactively contacted more than 500,000 vulnerable customers to update their details and offer advice. As a result, more than 6,000 at-risk customers received aid, enabling them to save $1.7 million.
“Stakeholder engagement is only of value if it leads to actions,” Wilkes said. “This success was achievable because everyone in the business recognizes the importance of engaging with customers and stakeholders to deliver continuing improvement in service.”