ScottishPower must put all its energy into rebuilding trust

ScottishPower needs all the friends it can get. It has been accused of failing to treat its customers fairly, with late billing, inadequate call handling and complaint resolution. The £18 million penalty levied is the third largest in the energy regulator's history.

Ian McVey, UK director at Qualtrics. Picture: Contributed
Ian McVey, UK director at Qualtrics. Picture: Contributed

The firm has apologised unreservedly, but is now faced with the challenge of rebuilding its reputation among its regulators, press, stakeholders and customers. To do so, ScottishPower should reach out to its employees. It cannot rebuild trust in the company without them.

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Effective employee engagement is far harder to achieve in a legacy company employing 10.000 people, owned by a larger firm, formed from a merger, to which other firms have been added over time, than it is in a small, dynamic and customer focused competitor.

In its recent customer satisfaction score, Which? recently put ScottishPower second to last in front of Npower with a customer score of 44 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.

While the challenge should not be underestimated, neither should the opportunity it brings. As a member of the “big six”, ScottishPower is one of the largest and oldest energy operators in the UK, with 5.3 million customers. It should set itself the target of converting the one million complaints it received in the last few years into one million messages of praise, making it not just an energy powerhouse, but a vocal consumer champion. Such a target would help to differentiate it from both its established and emerging competitors, while focusing management and wowing its audiences.

Even better, it would galvanise its employees. How can a ScottishPower customer be engaged by a disheartened and demotivated employee whose service has been so widely criticised? Who knows more about the customers or makes a bigger impression than a customer-facing employee? The firm has the ideal opportunity to make ambassadors of its workforce, instead of risking their becoming detractors.

The firm should start by asking its digital, HR and internal comms teams how they are engaging, informing and updating its employees, and how quickly and on what metrics they are analysing their success? Can they spotlight where the discontent is greatest, and in what disciplines? Are customer facing staff more disengaged in one department than they are in another? Can sentiment be compared and contrasted across silos? Forensic insight must come first, so that action can be informed.

That is what best practice looks like. We see it in the car sector, which links individual salespeople, nationwide dealers and franchised firms to corporate HQ, giving senior management continuous, real-time feedback on employee sentiment, satisfaction and employee opinion, which is then cross referenced with customer feedback. Customers and employees, after all, are two sides of the same coin, and in the sharing society, employees expect their views to be taken just as seriously as do the customers, and they are every bit as willing to engage.

Among the savviest UK companies, customer insight is becoming a holy grail. When these firms go a step further, the inter-relationship between contented customers and engaged employees becomes a virtuous circle. Companies that champion their employees rate the cost of their demotivation and disengagement as highly as the cost of consumer dissatisfaction. They are informed by Gallup research that suggests only 30 per cent of those in America holding down full-time jobs are engaged in their work, putting the cost of disengagement at up to $550 billion (£377bn) per year, and by similar research from Qualtrics, which recently showed that UK workers thing 36 per cent of their working day is unproductive.

Companies that succeed in aligning the customer and employee do so with analytic “software as a service” – immediate, affordable and simple-to-use platforms that grasp the employee experience, as well as the customer opinion, replacing laborious interviews and interpretation with real-time, automated and anonymous analytics. By sharing tailored insights across silos, management better understands failings in the customer supply chain, spotlights pockets of high or low staff engagement and discovers the reasons why.

Companies that take smart citizens, socially connected customers and opinionated employees for granted do so at their peril. But those that give them a voice find themselves in a stronger position to cope with crises, and to profit from them.

• Ian McVey is UK director at research company Qualtrics