THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING TO YOUR CUSTOMERS

Customers & Solutions Martijn Hagens, Head of BA Customers & Solutions, talks about Vattenfall’s approach to retaining and growing the customer base and developing an organisation that always listens to its customers.

Vattenfall's customer base has been growing for some time now. During the past few years, there was strong growth in Germany and, since recently, there has also been growth in Sweden and the Netherlands. And that's great news, says Martijn Hagens in this interview, part of a series of articles with members of the Executive Group Management.

Vattenfall has more than 6.5 million customers and its customer base is growing. In 2016 the company won 141,000 new contracts. The target is 8.5 million contracts by 2020 and 10 million contracts by 2025. Martijn Hagens explains Vattenfall's strategy for achieving this growth:

"We are a business that comes from a culture of process improvement and that has worked really well for us. But if you really want to make progress, you have to focus not on processes but on the customer."

Guaranteeing loyalty
One of the approaches that has led to the growth in Vattenfall's customer base is a focus on loyalty.
“If we listen carefully to our customers and use their feedback to refine our propositions and our business, these customers become ambassadors for Vattenfall. This loyalty will ultimately lead to autonomous growth,” Hagens says.

“We're also expanding our product portfolio, take e-mobility, for example, so it's increasingly appealing for customers to purchase other products and services from us apart from just an energy contract.”

A third opportunity for growth is to take over third-party activities that tie in with Vattenfall’s core activities. Last year, for example, Vattenfall purchased Vindstoed, a small start-up energy supplier in Denmark, enabling the company to expand.

“But our main focus is on guaranteeing customer loyalty and building an emotional bond with the customer.”

From functional to emotional
BA Customers & Solutions' strategy emphasises the transition from a functional customer experience to an emotional customer experience.

"Functional means that you do the things you do well," explains Martijn Hagens. "For example, a bill must be user-friendly for the customer but you don't gain any loyalty from that. We want to ensure that the customer always associates the bill with something positive. For instance by attaching a video clip in the e-mail to the customer that gives the customer tips for reducing his energy consumption. Vattenfall believes that if it builds an emotional bond with the customer and can offer a good deal, it will be the logical supplier for that customer.”

Striving for optimum customer experience
By listening to customers, Vattenfall can ultimately supply them with the energy that they want. In its pursuit of this optimum customer experience, the company pledges to fulfil four customer promises: easy, sustainable, fair and engaged. Martijn Hagens singles out one of these promises:

"Sustainability is a major challenge for us as a society. How can we tell our customers that we're sustainable while we're still operating fossil-fuelled power plants? These power plants are still needed and that’s a somewhat uncomfortable truth, but I don't think we should ever have to apologise for it. Because we're working as hard as we can on the transition to sustainable generation and we're offering an unbelievably good service to our customers and to society."
Another major challenge is applying all four customer promises consistently.

"Some products meet all four promises, which is fantastic, but if a customer complains, clearly there is an inconsistency in the system."

Customer contact
Martijn Hagens recently received an email from a customer who approached him directly and who wasn't happy with the service that he had received.

"A complaint from a customer must be taken very seriously, and the successful resolution of a complaint is one way customers establish an emotional bond with the company, so I rang the customer back immediately. We had a good chat and the customer told me that we had seriously upset him. We talked about the situation and I asked him to give us another chance based on our conversation. The next day one of our colleagues called with a proposal and we managed to retain the customer as a result. And he was amazed how quickly we had taken action to resolve the matter. It must be obvious to customers that we care about them and listen to them and that we are a provider of solutions."

Provider of solutions
Vattenfall wants to be a leading supplier of energy solutions for both retail customers and businesses. The supply of electricity, gas, heat pumps and solar panels is already in the portfolio. According to Martijn Hagens, the new energy solutions can be subdivided into three areas: e-mobility, smart and decentralized solutions and innovative business models.

E-mobility
"We want to be one of the top three players in all our markets for the supply of charging points and charging options to our customers."

Smart and decentralized solutions
“This includes anything to do with decentralised generation, such as solar panels and heat pumps, but also batteries (which are under development in Germany). And we want to manage all this in a smart way. For commercial customers, even on an industrial scale, through collaboration with BA Wind and BA Heat.

Innovative business models
"In the Netherlands we have the peer-to-peer platform, Powerpeers. In Sweden we have Alltid, a community where we help people with their energy contracts by looking at ways they can reduce their energy consumption, for example. In Germany we have Enpure, the first fully app-based energy product where everything is done on your mobile."

Commercial market
In the commercial market there is clear evidence of collaboration over solutions.
"In Sweden in particular we're talking to customers about demand response," says Martijn Hagens. "How can we get them to change their electricity consumption according to whether the demand for energy is high or low? This gives rise to new business models."

 In the commercial market in the Netherlands, solar power plays a key role: Nuon has installed solar panels on the Amsterdam Arena football stadium and the Thialf ice stadium, for example. In Germany there's a great deal of interest in the storage of energy in batteries and in participation models for wind farms. Vattenfall is also talking to business customers about charging solutions for cars, both on the company's premises and at the homes of the company's employees.

Customer-focused supplier
Whether it be the retail market or the commercial market, Martijn Hagens emphasises that by 2020 Vattenfall must primarily be a customer-focused supplier.

“It's not important to consider at this point what exactly we'll be doing in 2020, what's important is that we develop an organisation that always listens to its customers. If we do that, we'll still be a good business in 2020. We must get away from the idea of thinking that we know what's good for the (ever more savvy) customer. People have access to more and more information and have to make a great many choices on an ongoing basis. We must ensure that these choices become easier."

Acceleration of energy transition
Choices or not, everyone wants to speed up the transition to sustainable energy. According to Martijn Hagens, the question everyone must ask themselves is therefore: how can I speed this energy transition up? He looks forward to the future and thinks it would be great if the next generation could live in a totally sustainable way.

"Wouldn't it be great if when my children look to buy a house they could buy one that's CO2 neutral? And if you have that prospect in mind, you'll work hard as a company to make that vision of the future a reality."

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