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Listening to customers can make all the difference

Monday, 13 May 2019

It’s been just over six months since I joined the Jemena team as Managing Director. Every company does things differently and stepping into a leadership role you’re very quickly able to identify the things that make a company special.

Before joining Jemena I did a lot of research. Through this process, I learnt early on that Jemena is an Aboriginal word meaning “to hear, listen and think”, and this made me wonder how Jemena worked with its customers and stakeholders – would this be unique, or special in any way?

Pleasingly, I believe the answer is yes.

In an industry that, for a long time, went about its business quietly, energy is now at the forefront of political debate, media commentary, and is the topic of barbecue and household dinner table conversations – every-day Australians have a great interest in energy and want to be part of the conversation. This is something Jemena has taken to heart, and one thing that has stood out about Jemena is the work our team is doing on our five-year customer pricing and services plans for gas and electricity. These plans outline how we will keep our electricity and gas supply reliable and how we will bill customers. Plans like these are often based on economic modelling rather than the needs of the customer.

At Jemena, things are done differently.

While economics are a key factor, instead of focusing solely on the numbers we went directly to our customers to find out what they expect of our services and pricing. Such in-depth customer consultation has not been a typical feature of developing pricing and services plans like these in the past.

Since November 2017, our customer engagement team has been out talking to the people who use our power and gas every day. For our electricity network customers in Melbourne’s north-west, we held a People’s Panel with a carefully selected group of community members, representing a cross section of the community. We met with them multiple times in mid-2018 and again earlier this year to really drill down to what matters to them.

The results were fascinating. 

Of course customers care about the price of their electricity bills. Any newspaper headline will tell you that. But what customers also care about is what we are doing to protect the environment and how their money is being invested into new technologies that will prepare the grid for the future. They also told us they want more control over their energy use by having access to smart meter data through online portals and apps.

In Sydney, where our gas network is located, we took a different approach. We engaged with a diverse range of business and residential customers through forums and interviews, we visited nursing homes and held forums for culturally diverse groups. We know that these customers all have different needs so we wanted to find out what they were.

Over the course of these conversations two themes stood out – fairness and affordability. For many of our customers, gas represents good value for money. They feel it is affordable and they want it to stay that way. They are interested in how we invest in the network and want a flat price path to minimize changes in price in the coming years and facilitate better planning and budgeting.

All the learnings and customer feedback we gathered informed the draft customer pricing and services plans we released in January this year. This kicked-off a second phase of customer engagement where we went back to these same customers to see if our plans hit the mark. We are now compiling all the feedback received during this second phase before we submit the final plans to the Australian Energy Regulator.

There are also things we are doing now that are already making a difference to our customers.

We take seriously the strain cost of living increases are putting on households in our service areas. That’s why we kept our electricity network prices flat for our Victorian customers in 2019. We also held community education sessions to help customers better understand and manage their energy use in the lead up to summer.

Really listening to what customers have to say is an approach that makes sense when developing plans that will directly impact them on a day-to-day basis, and should be part of any planning process. At Jemena, while we are extremely proud of what we’ve done we realise that there’s always more we can do in this area.

There is so much to learn if you take the time to get out there and “hear, listen and think” about what is important to customers.

Jemena Managing Director
Frank Tudor

About Jemena

At Jemena we work in the service of our customers and employees to create value by designing, building and investing in sustainable energy infrastructure for the benefit of Australia’s future.

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Participants at Jemena’s Arabic customer forum.