How Scottish Power should take on the mammoth task of rebuilding its reputation among regulators

Scottish Power was hit with a bill for £18m, the third largest fine in the energy regulator’s history. It was accused of failing to treat its customers fairly, with late billing, inadequate call handling and poor complaint resolution.

The firm is not alone among the UK’s Big Six energy providers in failing to “wow” its customers. British Gas, EDF, Eon, Npower, SSE and Scottish Power were all “also rans” in a “2016 Customer Satisfaction Survey” by Which. Npower came last with a satisfaction score of just 41 per cent. The winner, with 82 per cent was a smaller firm, founded from scratch in 1999, called Ovo, with a workforce of only 900.

There’s the clue. Effective employee engagement is much harder to achieve in a legacy company employing 10.000 people, owned by an even larger firm and formed from a merger, to which other firms have been bolted over time, than it is in a small, dynamic and customer focused competitor. In a nimble challenger, the DNA of its disruption often starts by seeing the business opportunity through the customer’s eyes, and the need to engage cascades from management and informs every employee. In larger organisations, some people engage in new ways of working, while some do not. The seeds of long term disruption are far easier to sow from the ground up than they are to reverse engineer. 

Scottish Power has apologised to its customers unreservedly and will no doubt now be engaged in the mammoth task of rebuilding its reputation among its regulators, press and stakeholders. To do so, Scottish Power should start at home and reach out to its employees.

Read more about “Big Energy Six” companies:

Employees are like Embassies which represent the company, gather feedback, alert the hierarchy about competitor activity and gather market intelligence. In a bygone world, embassies were like other bureaucracies, with vertical structures that related to one other over geographically precise events and issues, inheriting the received wisdom and machinery of diplomacy.

But that was then, in an age unaffected by a socially connected, globalised and mobile revolution. Now we have a new, horizontal playing field across geographies, time zones and cultures. Today, individuals are the power base and demand a radical change in a traditional approach. For a government, global currency traders might need to be addressed, or even negotiated with, while for a company, the millennial customer is proving to be just as challenging. Twitter, Trip Advisor and Facebook have made the customer the real deployer of organised power, with a base as powerful as that of any nation state.

The challenge this poses is enormous, and cannot be underestimated, but neither should the opportunity it brings. Scottish Power, one of the largest and oldest energy operators in the UK has a powerbase of its own; 5.3m customers. Its opportunity is to set its employees the challenge of converting the 1m complaints it received in the last few years into 2m messages of praise, making it not just an energy powerhouse, but a thoroughly modern, and vocal, consumer champion. Such a stated target would instantly differentiate the firm from its established and more nimble competitors, focus its hierarchy and set UK PLC an impressive example.

Most of all, however, such a target would galvanise its employees, with a tangible opportunity to yurn them into ambassadors instead of risking their becoming detractors. How can a Scottish Power customer be engaged by a disengaged, disheartened and demotivated employee whose service is reputed to have landed the company in such an unenviable position? Who knows more about the customers or makes a bigger impression than a customer facing employee?

The firm might start the process by empowering its digital, HR and internal comms teams and tasking them to find new ways of engaging, motivating and impressing its employees. Management should call for real time metrics on employee engagement that spotlight workplace concerns and measure dissatisfaction and opinion in real time.

The process is more about a management mind change than a technological revolution, because the software that delivers the change is inexpensive to acquire, simple to use, inclusive and immensely powerful. Dashboards are accessed instantly by all those involved in the endeavour, offering a real time, simple to use and immediate grasp on the employee experience while replacing laborious interviews and interpretation. Automated and anonymous analytics provide the forensic insight with which action can be informed and targets set.

Customers and employees are two sides of the same coin. Those that take their employees for granted do so at their peril, while those that champion them rate the cost of their demotivation and disengagement as highly as they do cost of consumer dissatisfaction. By giving employees voice, Scottish Power will find itself both in a stronger position to cope with this crisis, and to profit from it.

In an age where reputation is increasingly becoming seen as competitive currency for businesses, it’s important to understand what it is and how to build and protect it. Small businesses in particular can use it to their advantage over bigger, perhaps less agile, competitors.

Ian McVey is UK Director of Qualtrics.

Image: Shutterstock

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