#BetterTogether Customer & Community Engagement:
The Energy Charter
with Sabiene Heindl, The Energy Charter.
Australia’s energy sector is undergoing rapid change. Pressure is being felt across all parts of the supply chain to deliver reliable, affordable, safe and sustainable energy for consumers, while making the necessary investments to support transformation from fossil-fuelled centralized generation to renewable energy and distributed energy.
Within this transition, the Energy Charter creates a unique opportunity to authentically engage with consumers, communities and other stakeholders to ensure that the energy sector future is aligned with social licence and consumer expectations. This is a huge cultural change piece within the energy sector and requires authentic #bettertogether consultation across the IAP2 spectrum.
A need to respond and rebuild trust through engagement
As the energy sector grapples with these challenges and opportunities, many Australian consumers have been frustrated and distrusting of energy companies. In 2019 during levels of all-time low consumer trust and confidence, CEOs and business leaders from Australian energy companies across the energy supply chain voluntarily came together to co-design the Energy Charter in partnership with consumer advocates.
The Energy Charter is a world-first whole-of-sector CEO-led collaboration that supports the energy sector towards a customer-centric future. Signatories commit to five principles:
- We will put customers at the centre of our business and the energy system
- We will improve energy affordability for customers
- We will provide energy safely, sustainably and reliably
- We will improve the customer experience
- We will support customers facing vulnerable circumstances
As part of their commitment to the Energy Charter, CEOs agree to publicly disclose how they are delivering against the Energy Charter Principles annually to stakeholders through public disclosures, stakeholder forums and CEO meetings through an Independent Accountability Panel process.
Listening and learning from customers, communities and stakeholders is critical to this process. Advocacy groups and stakeholders are actively engaged to ensure issues facing different segments of the community are well represented – from reducing bill complexity for multicultural audiences, to meeting sustainability expectations. The Energy Charter has created a dedicated End-User Consultative Group with an independent chair, creating a platform for voices across Australia to collaborate with the sector for better customer outcomes.
Leveraging its unique architecture across the whole energy supply chain, signatories have created #BetterTogether initiatives – collaborative projects across the energy supply chain that:
- Focus on customer pain points and co-design opportunities through a human-centred design innovation framework (ideate – incubate – accelerate) to deliver better outcomes
- Drive customer-centric culture change deeper within the energy sector creating a community that connects change champions across the energy sector.
A number of #BetterTogether initiatives focus on culture change through better practice engagement with customers and communities across the IAP2 spectrum. These are highlighted below.
#BT Know your customers and community
The focus of the #BetterTogether Know your customers and communities initiative is to drive robust and fit-for-purpose customer, community and stakeholder engagement activities to shape energy business culture and decision making based on the voice of the customer. Over the last year alone, energy businesses have engaged with consumer advocates and stakeholders to co-create practical resources that highlight examples of “better” customer and stakeholder engagement across the IAP2 Spectrum through:
- Shared Learning Customer Engagement Platform
- Better Practice Engagement Toolkit
- Better Practice Guide for Customer Advocacy Support
#BetterTogether Customer Voice @ Board Level
“Boards have a vital role to play in ensuring the customer voice is appropriately influencing the strategic decision-making and direction of our energy businesses.”– Kathy Hirschfeld AM, Chair, Powerlink Queensland
Knowing the customer includes ensuring their voice is heard at all levels of the business. In June 2021, this #BetterTogether initiative developed a Customer Voice @ Board Resource with better practice options for businesses to consider to ensure the customer voice is appropriately influencing the strategic decision-making and direction of their businesses. The resource contains examples of better practice engagement with customers and their representatives by existing board members.
#BetterTogether Landholder and Community Engagement Better Practice
Landholder and community engagement is increasingly a critical aspect of providing essential energy services to Australian communities. As we move increasingly towards a new energy future, there are growing opportunities for proactive engagement between energy businesses, landholders and communities regarding energy asset development projects and the maintenance of existing energy assets.
In September 2021, the Better Practice Landholder and Community Engagement Guide was launched with the National Farmers’ Federation as a guide for landholders and communities on what to expect when businesses engage about energy assets. Put together with the help of landholder and community representatives from the agriculture sector, the Better Practice Guide:
- Shares the high-level principles that help guide engagement
- Assists in the management of business impacts on landholders and communities
- Guides mutual value opportunities which may exist.
It has been designed to assist in the respectful engagement that needs to take place for the design, development, delivery, operation and/or maintenance of new or existing energy assets.
Culture change gaining momentum through authentic engagement
As the energy sector transforms there are ongoing challenges and community expectations that businesses need to address. Consumers expect authenticity in business leaders, listening and engaging with their customers and communities across the IAP2 spectrum.
Culture change towards customer centricity within the energy sector will take time. More work needs to be done across the sector to shift to a customer-centric mindset and increase customer voice. The power of collaborative engagement through the Energy Charter and its #BetterTogether initiatives is gaining momentum. Genuine engagement with customers and communities in essential in this journey.