Maman Poulet | Clucking away crookedly through media, politics and life

That’s gas – eh no it’s electricity!

February 19th, 2009 · 11 Comments · Blogging, Consumer blogging

Bord Gáis Energy launched yesterday with their entry into the residential electricity market known as the Big Switch. There was lots of coverage on mainstream media outlets including quizzing of the electricity regulator (a man you never hear on the radio except for obligatory appearance when price rises are announced!) on News at One with Sean O’Rourke.

A new player in the residential electricity market – Bord Gais Energy will provide/resell energy to people at reduced rates compared to the ESB – at least 10% off in year one, 5% in year two, and 5% in year three. If the customer pays by direct debit there will be a further discount and another discount if one is also a gas customer. (550,000 of them!)

If the ESB put their prices down then the Bord Gáis Energy prices will go down also. 15,000 farmers have already made the big switch to electricity from Bord Gáis last year and all seems to be going well. If thats not the case I’m sure someone will make a comment 🙂

There has been competition in the provision of electricity to business customers and there are other companies entering the residential sector. But for Bord Gáis Energy this is a big move – two semi states competing against each other is also something new. The big player having their hand tied behind their back in terms of price setting is a factor to be considered – according to the regulator it’s so others can compete. But that won’t be the situation for ever.

So how come I know all about this??

The night before the launch I attended an off the record preview of the campaign launch for blogging types and got to see the poster ads, tv ads, and hear the radio spots. The marketing team from Bord Gais were there – they wanted to talk to bloggers, and more importantly listen to bloggers about how not only to market online but to listen and learn from online interactions.  There was no bullshit and lots and lots of questions and loads of answers.

We learnt that people will be encouraged to sign up either online or by phoning the company to make the switch.  There will also be door-to-door switch team which will be tightly regulated and salary based rather than commission – so I hope no Eircom Phonewatch scare stories (i remember the day a friend rang me about to sign up after the lovely people had got into the kitchen and filled her full of scare stories so much she was scared shitless – she rang me for some bank stuff and I managed to shout stop and think and how much was it really going to cost! Phonewatch were sent on their way by me and I was not even in the house at the time!)

In relation to online strategies and the future engagement by Bord Gáis Energy my advice to the company would be

1. Blog as a company about the new product – get stories of people who have switched and get them to write about the process. (and don’t pay them a gratuity like AIB do for the radio/tv ad – and disclose it!! In fact disclose everything – people appreciate not being bullshitted to!)

2. Get someone to keep an eye on issues which pop up online – on blogs, or rollercoaster or the various mommy boards – those who talk about the bills, who don’t understand the process or who are getting the run around from a service provider. Prediction :-  Online community managers will be a regular feature of customer service staffing in many of Ireland’s major companies in the next 2-3 years and I don’t mean people just managing their own company’s forum – but monitoring  and engaging with what’s happening outside.

3. Go viral on some ads!  On Bord Gais Energy’s youtube account they put up their 50/50 cashback ad from 15-20 years ago – brilliant idea and I was jigging along to it in my sofa.  I can see lots of other companies bringing us back their old ads as well as new stuff online to build brand allegiance and memory especially when going in a new direction. And don’t get too upset when someone does a pisstake of the Big Switch television or radio ads or photoshops Lucy Kennedy – tell the cynical business mandarins on the top floor that it’s brand building!

From what I heard on the night I do think there are a number of consumer issues which need to be dealt with and I’ve mentioned some of them before.

  • A binding – and not voluntary – code of conduct of behaviour of all players in the market.  Many of the bloggers present the other night could tell a story or twenty about phone deregulation, selling of services and pressure from the market leader trying to get people back to their service. Comreg is not known as Eircom’s poodle for no reason!
  • So if  your Aunty Mary decides to make the big switch she is guaranteed that she can do so without interference from the company she is leaving.  The company she is signing up to has to be clear and transparent in their dealings also.    A do not call registry is also needed – or at least a beefing up of the existing one. Fines should be levied where it can be proved people were signed over to new agencies without their consent and all barriers to changing over that have been identified in the deregulation of the telecom industry should be prevented from occurring in the electricity market straight off.
  • We need a consumer led energy watchdog – the regulator should regulate the industry but we need to have a group funded independently which handles customer complaints and makes representations on behalf of customers generally to the regulator and other bodies.  (For those who think we have them already – The Consumer Association of Ireland is a private body with no mandate from anyone, the National Consumer Agency is a fairly toothless government watchdog with lackeys and mates on the board on little earners.)

In case you are interested I did not get paid to write the above or attend the session –  I got a glass of still mineral water and a cushioned chair to sit on during the presentation and thats it.

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