#BetterTogether Cost of Living – Insights from Business NSW

Key take-aways from our recent “review and reflect” on how customers in vulnerable circumstances have been supported through COVID-19 is that we need to think broadly about who needs support and how we tailor that support to meet individual needs.

When we think about vulnerability, small businesses owners are not always the first people that come to mind.

Anthony Cooper, Executive Manager of the Energy Programs at Business NSW reminds us that small businesses are starting to feel pressure of rising cost-of-living expenses and we must keep them front of mind when considering how to best support our communities moving forward.

“As households around Australia manage increasing cost pressures, consumers are focussing more on their outgoings, prioritising essentials and cutting back where they can. This means cancelling or cutting back on many small business offerings, particularly across the hospitality, entertainment, and tourism sectors.

“Our latest Business Conditions Survey (April 2022) reflects this, with business confidence low, and many concerned about juggling wage increases, rising materials, transport and insurance costs.”

At its last meeting, the Energy Charter CEO Council elevated support for customers and communities facing cost-of-living pressures as a priority area for collaborative action, with Energy Charter Signatories now scoping up options for #BetterTogether initiatives to support those in vulnerable circumstances under Principle 5 of the Energy Charter. 

When thinking about how to best support communities, Anthony offers some sage advice for designing and delivering services for small businesses:

One size doesn’t fit all

Just like every person, every business is different. It’s important to take the time to really understand a business, its relationship with energy, motivation and capacity to implement change. When designing small business solutions, it’s critical to build-in flexibility to ensure there’s room for customisation. 

Consider the full customer journey

Considering the full customer journey is fundamental to good design for any program, product or service, and not just for small business. From a small business standpoint, addressing energy affordability can include much more than, for example, an initial assessment and options analysis. It can also mean navigating the procurement process, including finding trusted suppliers and financing options, as well developing new operational processes. It’s critical to stand in shoes of the customer and consider what the entire process looks like for them. 

It’s a matter of value

When it comes to juggling competing priorities, small business owners are the ultimate masters. Often, we think about small businesses as being ‘time poor’, but that’s not entirely accurate. Businesses will prioritise activities that offer value, however, they simply can’t afford to put time and attention towards activities where the return to the business is not clear and understandable. When working with small businesses it’s important to reflect this at every touch point. Take time to think about how you’re articulating value and if the level of engagement you’re asking for is propitiate to the end value of the product or service.  

Anthony says, “These tips are not just for energy businesses looking at new and innovative ways to support, they’re good pointers for anyone developing products, services, or support measures for small business.

“I also want to remind small business owners feeling nervous about how they will manage their future energy costs, that there are programs in place that can help.

“It’s always worth reaching out to your energy retailer directly to understand your options. The Business Energy Advice Program (BEAP) is also a great starting point. BEAP is a free energy advisory service that delivers face-to-face, phone and digital advice to small businesses across Australia.

“BEAP can help small businesses understand their energy savings opportunities, choose the best energy plan for their business, and receive tailored advice on energy efficiency opportunities best suited to their industry. You can register for a free Business Energy Advice consultation by calling 1300 415 224 or visiting businessenergyadvice.com.au

Stay tuned for upcoming announcements from the Energy Charter CEO Council on support for those in vulnerable circumstances, including small business, under Principle 5 of the Energy Charter. 

#BetterTogether – Human centred co-design of the National Customer Code Energy Comparators and Energy Moving Services

The importance of developing a rich understanding of customer experiences was central to successfully human-centred co-designing and launching the recent National Customer Code Energy Comparators and Energy Moving Services (the Customer Code), a #BetterTogether initiative of the Energy Charter.

“Developing a co-design process to engage a broad range of stakeholders with the right result required a thorough and considered approach. It began by outlining the problem we aimed to solve, scoping the relevant stakeholders, including industry representatives and customer advocates, and working with experienced human-centred design facilitators.” – Anne Whitehouse, CEO of Sales Assured and Administrator of the Customer Code.

The intention of the Customer Code was to address some of the concerns about third party intermediaries’ selling practices raised in the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Retail Electricity Pricing Inquiry Report 2018 (the REPI Report) with a view to pragmatic industry-led solutions.  

Initial discussions were held with ACCC, Australian Energy Market Commission and Australian Energy Regulator to share the plan for the Customer Code development. To gauge support and build momentum, an initial stakeholder forum was held in August 2021, facilitated by design-thinking expert, Dewang Bhargav of Energy Queensland. The focus of the workshop was to build an understanding of the energy comparator and moving service market experience for customers: what was working, what wasn’t and areas for industry-led improvements.

From here, a representative Code Builders group was formed who met fortnightly until November 2021 to develop the Customer Code. Participants included customer representatives, third-party comparators and moving services and energy retailers. These were stimulating discussions as the Code Builders challenged themselves to look at ways to meet some of the matters in the REPI Report with a human-centred design approach. This meant developing solutions to customer problems by involving the human perspective in all steps of the problem-solving process. The strong commitment to delivering tangible customer outcomes was evident throughout.

Once the Customer Code draft was finalised, it was circulated stakeholders for their feedback. An open-invitation forum was also held in April 2022. Thoughtful responses from ACCC, the Consumer Policy Research Centre and Public Interest Advocacy Centre helped to strengthen the Customer Code.

The Customer Code has a strong governance framework, including a Customer Code Council (CCC) to provide strategic direction and support to the Code Administrator, Anne Whitehouse. The CCC was an open application process and many of the Code Builders joined the CCC under Independent Chair, John Smith.

The Customer Code for Energy Comparators & Moving Services launched in June 2022. Its success will depend on the level of industry participation and the commitment of the signatories to the Customer Code principles. It is importantly backed by energy retailers and other suppliers who choose to join as Supporters.

A special thanks to the people who made this happen:

 

The Energy Charter July News Update

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