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.