#BetterTogether – Collaborating across the energy supply chain to improve the experience of customers connecting to gas in Victoria

New gas connection requirements have differed between each distribution business across Victoria making it complicated in some cases and not consistent for customers and others in the supply chain such as building developers. Through the architecture of the Energy Charter, energy distributors Australian Gas Networks (AGN), Multinet Gas Networks (MGN), and AusNet Services collaborated with retailers Origin Energy, AGL and EnergyAustralia to run a trial and now fully implement the single gas connection process with all retailers; making  it easier for customers to connect to gas in Victoria, irrespective of their postcode area, improving the customer experience.

“Having different processes for new gas connections across three energy distribution networks has been a long-standing issue in Victoria and was further highlighted in the results of each distribution business Customer Satisfaction Survey. We wanted to come together to agree on a single process to improve the experience of our customers and we’re making great progress.” Nadia Janevski – Manager, Customer & Support Services at APA Group (AGN Service Partner).

Collaboration began in 2019 where the three Victorian gas distribution networks, AGN, MGN, and AusNet Services, came together to co-create a site readiness document to standardise ‘site ready’ requirements and technical differences across the state. Site readiness, for example, means when the site is ready for a gas service to be constructed, ie no scaffolding, no building material, clean site and safe access etc… on the building site.

The site readiness document standards were then shared more broadly with builders to contribute to the feedback loop and improvement.  This was key in ensuring we were focussing on their problem and not what we thought was their problem.

“There were some challenges, but we all had a vision and were able to work together to standardise site readiness into one document and to improve the connection process for all our customers.” James Wong, Marketing & Stakeholder Engagement Manager at Australian Gas Infrastructure Group

The second stage of the collaboration focused on co-creating a ‘Vic New Connection 10 step process’ to ensure energy distributors could connect customers at the right time and meet their expectations. This primarily improves the experience of residential customers making up approximately 80% of new gas connections.

The ‘Vic New Connection 10 step process includes Builders Information I Multinet Gas and Applying for Your Gas Service I Australian Gas Networks.

Buy-in from energy retailers was easy as a streamlined process, and consistent clear communication, helps them deliver a better service to customers. Customer support teams in call centres can now follow one new gas connections process, rather than three. This will really improve the experience of customers who are connecting gas for the first time.

From here, the focus will be on developing a communication and engagement strategy to embed the process across Victoria. #BetterTogether champions are undertaking activities such as communicating to and educating builders and making the process available for download on distributor websites. They will also share the process through different channels to get the message out more broadly.

Nadia Janevski – Manager, Customer & Support Services at APA Group said “It’s a work in progress, changing behaviours takes time, but we’re getting there.”

#BetterTogether – Making progress with a first of its kind Energy Network Vulnerable Customer Assistance Program

Energy Charter signatories are making progress towards their commitment of supporting customers facing vulnerable circumstances – Principle 5 of the Energy Charter. Leading the way for energy networks is AGIG who has developed an organisation wide vulnerable customer strategy and will be designing and delivering a Vulnerable Customer Assistance Program (VCAP) starting in South Australia and Queensland in 2021.  

“As a network business there are opportunities for us to do more for those customers who are in need. Through our customer engagement, we understand our customers expect us to be there for those in the community that need us more, be it when we’re in the field, or taking a call. This program of activities positions us to identify and engage with customers at risk and provides tailored services to prevent them falling into hardship, so they can get back on track.”- Kristen Pellew, Head of Stakeholder Engagement at Australian Gas Infrastructure Group (AGIG)

Traditionally, the provision of assistance to vulnerable customers has been the domain of retailers, not-for-profit organisations and governments. Through our stakeholder engagement process, the development of the Energy Charter (which AGIG is a signatory to), and the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become clear that we have a larger role to play in supporting our vulnerable customers.

Here at AGIG, we are committed to delivering for all customers, including ensuring our services are accessible and safe for those who are most vulnerable in our community.  To bring this program to life, we prioritised the elements of the VCAP during a series of three co-design workshops with experts and stakeholders from the social and community services sector, as part of our AGN South Australian Access Arrangement. 

These workshops were focused on the topic: How might AGN better support vulnerable customers – now and in the future? Workshop participants were experts from the social and community services sector including financial hardship, disability, mental health, culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) people, and older Australians. Prioritised ideas were captured by KPMG and documented in a Final Report. From there we conducted further engagement with stakeholders to refine a proposal which was ultimately endorsed by the AER.

Looking forward, our next step will be to engage collaboratively with key stakeholders, partners organisations and staff to ensure AGIG continues to improve it’s understanding of customer vulnerability and capability to respond appropriately. From there we will to design and operationalise a fit for purpose program in order to deliver the required services in partnership with others.

New services as part of the VCAP for those who are in vulnerable circumstances may include:

  • Free gas safety appliance checks, for South Australian householders to keep them safe
  • Financial support for switching to more efficient gas appliances for customers to help manage their bills
  • During a planned or unplanned outage, AGIG will provide tailored support, such as temporary cooking, heating or washing needs.  
  • Vulnerable customers can access funding for emergency appliance repairs, keeping those in need connected
  • We will help engage, identify and refer vulnerable customers for support, as AGN field crews have face to face interactions with customers and the community.
  • Customers who are vulnerable will only tell us their story once and our call centre and field crews will provide a tailored service

AGN’s VCAP includes a dedicated vulnerable customer role, priority services register using an upgraded CRM system, gas appliance safety checks and emergency repair assistance and support to help access to more efficient appliances.

“We’ve reviewed the journey of a gas customer, and to make it work, we will be partnering with others in the supply chain, government & community organisations to implement innovative solutions that will improve outcomes for customers in vulnerable circumstances.” – Chris Fidler, Multinet Gas Head of Customer and Market Services 

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