Digitalisation increasingly key part of supplier strategies

Spark and EDF Energy were the latest to make big moves towards digitalisation last week, as an increasing number of suppliers look to capitalise on the potential cost savings and improved customer experience offered through the integration of “self service” platforms. Both suppliers now boast chatbots which can act as a first point of contact for customers, with EDF Energy’s EVE capable of learning from customer interaction, and Spark planning to integrate its Ami bot with its existing live chat feature.

Recent months have also seen the rise of the app-only supplier and the increasing prominence of app-based customer interaction –  alongside Spark’s Ami announcement, the supplier launched Swift, a digital-only brand for its smart prepayment customers. Swift joins app-only brands Boost, Pure Planet, Powershop, and Lumo, as well as a host of apps offered to support customer interaction with traditional suppliers. Lumo, which launched as a separate brand from Ovo Energy in January, is unique in also offering a price comparison service as part of the app, which can be browsed before switching to the supplier.  

This is part of a wider shift, with digitalisation of the retail market regularly picked out by analysts and industry players as a key future trend. In the long term, digitalisation of services will form an essential building block of a smarter, more connected and interactive energy system. In a potential world of ubiquitous smart meters and connected home products, electric vehicle (EV) network balancing, and home battery storage, easy access to account management and usage data will benefit both customers and suppliers. Digital and app-based products will also provide suppliers with a way to remain central to customers’ relationship with their energy supply as the market potentially becomes more distributed and diversified.

This future thinking may not be the most salient consideration behind the move into digital services, however. While Ovo Energy’s two app-based brands fit well with its smart technology focused branding, digitalisation is proving popular across the board. A number of recent large supplier end of year results have cited digital in terms of cost cutting and customer retention in the short term. With Centrica already attributing reductions in its cost per home customer to digital investment, and Iberdrola targeting an additional €600 million EBITDA by 2022 through digitalisation and innovation, the benefits of streamlining customer interaction through digital interfaces are already clear. In contrast to past waves of automation of phone services, digital assistants, chatbots and apps also have the potential to improve customer service experiences, build relationships, and increase brand appeal in younger, more tech savvy markets.  

Early investment and innovation in the digital sphere will be key for suppliers looking to stay relevant and attractive as the supply landscape changes, but will also bring early rewards to suppliers struggling with squeezed margins and customer churn in a competitive market.

We track supplier activity in the market in our monthly and quarterly Domestic Supplier Insight Service (DSIS), the next monthly update of which will issue in early April.  If you would like to find out more about this service and what it covers, please contact Oliver Archer on 01603 959 886 or email o.archer@cornwall-insight.com.

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