Gazprom Energy are the world's largest gas producers, responsible for 13% of the world's supply of gas. The retail arm of the organisation, Gazprom Energy, are responsible for supplying energy to over 30,000 B2B customers across the UK, France and Netherlands; supplying organisations such as McDonald’s, Nando’s, Siemens and Chelsea Football Club. We worked with Gazprom Energy to create a multi-year digital roadmap that would help transform their online customer experience by enhancing their digital offering.

Making digital the differentiator in a crowded marketplace

The utility industry is incredibly competitive on price, and switching frequency is relatively low given the typical 3-year lifecycle of B2B energy contracts. This meant winning new business was often challenging, with many customers never engaging the business directly and using a broker.

It was clear the B2C market has already been fast to embrace the benefits that digital can bring; such as automation, personalisation and paperless account maintenance. But, across the board, B2B utility companies were falling behind. Gazprom Energy wanted to understand how they could make use of digital in a similar way, with the hope of tapping into a growing SME market where quality customer service was a key motivation to purchase.

Why After Digital?

Gazprom Energy approached us looking for advice on how they might better utilise digital in order to optimise their customer experience, whilst increasing efficiencies through automation and better-connected data. Here at After Digital, we’re no stranger to the utility sector, having worked with clients across the industry; including both B2B & B2C suppliers of gas, electricity and water, and even with industry regulators.

Gazprom Energy recognised our partnerships with existing clients, such as EDF Energy and Affinity for Business, where we’ve created digital roadmaps and continued to advise and support them in our recommendations. This has included the ongoing work for their self-serve platforms, pattern libraries and digital optimisations, and the commissioning of After Digital to help create their digital roadmap.

“I can honestly say that I’ve never seen anything as detailed and comprehensive as this roadmap in all the years I have been working in the energy sector. Particularly one that is sliced up into chunks that we can actually deliver. It is a recipe book from which we can decide what dishes to prepare and serve.”

~ Kurt Bligaard Pedersen, CEO, Gazprom Energy

Challenges

The utility industry is heavily regulated, which means making change (at least quickly) is often challenging. This creates a large disconnect when considering how fast-paced change can be, and needs to be, in the digital landscape.

B2B energy brokers and comparison sites have been quick to capitalise on digital, making use of automation and industry data to offer the best prices in the industry, along with a plethora of customer support options. Naturally, Gazprom Energy wanted to engage more customers directly. This meant they didn’t need to just match the offering of brokers, but build upon it.

This, in itself, was proving challenging as the breadth of the market meant that Gazprom would have to cater to an incredibly diverse customer base; from micro-businesses, such as local chip-shops, through to nationwide corporate giants, such as McDonald’s.

Customers were already facing a myriad of issues around billing, payments and a limited customer portal, meaning that it was difficult for users to resolve issues themselves without contacting Gazprom. When considered alongside the fact that many B2B customers had hundreds (if not thousands) of sites to manage, Gazprom Energy were facing a significant volume of customer contact in order to resolve their queries. At one point, customers were facing hour-long waiting times for support via the phone, and, in some cases, 1 month response times via email. This led to many disgruntled customers who relied on Gazprom Energy to run their businesses.

What did we find out about said challenges?

The strategy team initially conducted a week-long discovery with Gazprom Energy, meeting and listening to over 60 individuals across the business, including members of staff from: IT, sales & marketing, trading, customer support, administration and senior management. We spread our discovery sessions over 8 intense workshops at their headquarters in Manchester.

Throughout all of the workshops, there was a real sense of desire for change and enthusiasm around what opportunities lay ahead. Given the opportunity, ideas started to flow from all areas of the business. It was clear Gazprom Energy had the right people and attitude to enable great change within digital; it was a case of joining the dots and enabling the data, systems and processes that would turn them into reality.

Compliance doesn’t mean doing it the same way as always

One highlight was how many processes were constrained by compliance with strict industry regulations. Yet, whilst the rules may not have changed, the way in which businesses operate and the tools made available to them via digital have. This prompted a renewed look into how Gazprom Energy might approach the same problems with a fresh, digital perspective.

It’s much more efficient to maintain existing customers, rather than chase new leads

The senior management team had highlighted there was a big push not just to acquire new customers, but to keep great customers. Typically, they cost less to serve, are already familiar with the organisation and are already registered and on supply. Key to this success, however, relied on ensuring customers had no reason to leave, meaning a consistently great experience throughout the life of their existing contract, and proactive communications before renewals came up.

“We should do as much work on our current customers as we do on our new business.”

Prevention is better than the cure, and in turn, creates a better customer

In one of the sessions, we focussed on what challenges might exist from the customer’s perspective. Having the various departments in the one-room highlighted how small issues in one area can have large ramifications further down the line for other departments and ultimately the customer. In many cases, these were easily avoidable/fixed. Whilst departments were working well to solve issues within their own domains, there was a need to look at problems from the outside-in as a customer.

“We have a very strong focus on billing and payment issues - after the event. Preemptive analytics are much more important.”

Having good systems and data is a critical enabler for many of the solutions discussed

Underpinning all of the challenges and solutions posed, there was a common denominator; having data that was accurate, accessible, reliable and timely. Gazprom Energy had a multitude of systems and so an in depth review of all of their infrastructure was undertaken.

We deployed various tools and techniques to understand the complexities, interdependencies and the data architectures so we could map a solution that meets the needs of resourcing and time whilst maintaining business as Usual operations.

What was the solution and how we helped

Following the workshops, the strategy team collated their findings from the workshops. Throughout all of our discussions, one quote in particular stood out, echoing everything we’d heard throughout the week from the team at Gazprom Energy.

“Our business starts with the customer, not the machine”

~ Kurt Bligaard Pedersen, CEO, Gazprom Energy

We decided to use this customer journey as a vehicle to build the roadmap on, covering all aspects of the customer life-cycle; from acquisition, through to account management and renewals. Each section contains recommendations around the org structure, HR & training, data & systems and marketing and customer service. This meant all of our recommendations truly started from the perspective of the customer and how “the machine” could work for them.

Roadmap format

Gazprom Energy had identified 4 key objectives around growth and the customer experience that would be key to their success. We delivered a multi-year roadmap, backed by recommendations that would support all four of these objectives, each with a supporting benefits case with attached risks/costs.

Each of the recommendations were also assigned to an action area:

  • Organisational impact
  • HR & Skills development
  • Data and IT
  • Communications, Sales & Marketing

Customer proximity
Firstly, we had to gain an understanding of who their target customer is and what their needs are. We recommended Gazprom Energy conduct a variety of research methods into their existing customer base and suggested the creation of regular insight sessions and with real customers around how they utilise their services/digital.

We also recommended that they follow this up, by gaining an understanding of their customer lifecycle, and recommended some preliminary CX work to understand this. One example being a customer experience map covering the entire lifecycle to highlight the pitfalls/opportunities of every customer's interaction with Gazprom Energy. This would then be used by the organisation as a reference point when making any business decisions, aligning departments to the needs of the customer, thus encouraging ideation and interdepartmental collaboration.

IT, data discipline and the CRM
Given Gazprom Energy’s extensive IT infrastructure, we recommended a follow-up full-day session to dive deeper into the specific needs of the business and the possibilities that existed to optimise their current systems.

We conducted a review of their core data sets, to understand how their existing systems and reviewed where duplicate/missing data existed. This then led to discussions and planning on how they could move to a single “master record” for customer and contract data. Connecting the various data sets into a single source of truth. This would allow for faster creation of dashboards and reporting, making it easier to turn data into insight; informing future decisions and improvements.

Web platform
The web portal was identified as a key enabler for improving the customer experience, with the ability to automate many of the time-consuming support tasks. We included recommendations and a business case for investing in both the digital sales and self-serve platforms. We also included recommendations around critical decisions, research and investment that would need to be made beforehand to ensure success and value for money.

Benefits + results

The roadmap was well-received by the Gazprom Energy team and work on the recommendations is already underway. After Digital pride ourselves in being accountable for our recommendations, therefore, we continue to support Gazprom Energy in the roadmap implementation as they progress with critical decisions and changes.

“When I first read the roadmap I thought there was perhaps 50% of it that I could see we needed to implement, but having re-read it a few times and lived with it for some weeks now, I can see how the whole approach makes sense with around 90% needing to be implemented.”

~ Simon Reynolds, Head of Finance, Gazprom Energy

Want to learn more about our work in the utility sector and digital transformation?

We’ve completed numerous digital transformation projects for organisations in sectors including utilities, the arts and education. We also have a vast range of experience in working with the utility industry; with clients such as EDF Energy, Affinity for Water and Scotland On Tap; working on projects like websites, self-serve platforms and pattern libraries. If you’re involved in the utility sector or have questions about our digital transformation offering, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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