Energy firms repairing public image, Edelman's annual Trust Barometer finds

Public trust in the energy industry has substantially improved during the past year, according to Edelman's annual Trust Barometer report, but the chief executive of the industry's trade body acknowledged the sector must go further.

Warming up: Public trust in energy providers has improved
Warming up: Public trust in energy providers has improved

Edelman’s survey, which asked the public how much it trusts businesses in a range of industries to do what is right, showed energy was the most improved sector of the 11 measured.

The UK energy sector’s score had dropped from 44 per cent in 2010 to 31 per cent a year ago, but has risen back to 38 per cent this year, taking it ahead of the financial services industry.

The rise comes despite the  round of headline-grabbing price rises and a Which poll this week that placed the big six energy providers at the bottom end of a customer sat-isfaction survey of the sector.

Angela Knight, the chief executive of newly formed trade body Energy UK, told PRWeek: ‘We’re taking very seriously what we call the trust agenda.

‘We are working with the Government, our members and the regulator, Ofgem, to see how we can use the information and survey results that everybody has, to put in place a real cross-industry trust agenda.’

According to Knight, the new strategy includes a UK-wide roadshow to meet consumer groups outside London, with eight dates in the diary.

‘We want to be able to give regional consumer groups the opportunity to ask us questions and for us to say what we can do and where the energy companies are going,’ she said.

Knight was selected to lead Energy UK as part of its creation last year. The body joined together a number of smaller trade organisations representing separate parts of the energy industry – generation, retail, sustainable energy and a comms group also called Energy UK.

Both she and the former chairman of the ‘old’ Energy UK, Guy Esnouf, stressed that the energy industry must aspire to extend the turnaround in trust.

The most trusted industry by the UK public was technology, with 72 per  cent, a slight increase on its table-topping score of a year ago.

Knight claimed to have the same overall budget as Energy UK’s predecessors, but said the combination could give it ‘more bang for the same amount of bucks’.

Double-digit price hikes trigger industry reaction

The catalyst for many energy firms deciding to address their poor standing was the reaction to the double-digit price increases during the autumn of 2011.

This is the opinion of Guy Esnouf, head of corporate and internal comms at E.On and chair of the industry’s comms group from late 2010 to early 2012.  ‘That led to stakeholders [such as the Energy Select Committee] saying "well this can’t go on" and companies saying "we need to explain why this is because if customers don’t trust us this is a problem for us",’ he said.

Esnouf also attributed the change to Ofgem’s ‘leadership’ and said his personal view was that the energy industry overall was ‘being more open about what it says and what it does’, though it still had to make improvements to customer service.

E.On also assembled a monthly ‘independent customer council’ formed by Allan Leighton, former CEO of Asda, Paddy Tipping, former MP and former chair of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, and Justine Roberts, founder of Mumsnet.

‘We put various things in front of them, which included  our direct debit policy that many people said was confusing. We concluded it was and so we changed it,’ added Esnouf.

How I see it

Jessica Lennard, head of energy public affairs, Edelman

In large part, the fact that the industry was in such crisis in terms of public perception 12 months ago means that a lot of people have made a push to improve PR and trust.

Things reached a crisis point and it was a shock to the system. I believe the response, particularly from the large utilities, has been an about-turn. Many of them have said they will do better for their customers and are looking at different ways of engaging with their customers.

They have increased levels of scrutiny and reporting, and are working with consumer bodies in a way that five years ago they might not have been able to do quite so well. There has been a deliberate attempt to drive this issue of trust.

Key figures

7% Percentage point improvement in the energy industry’s trust score*

15.1% Increase in the average household’s annual dual fuel bill in 2012**

5.3% Increase in the average household’s annual dual fuel bill in 2013**

53% The trust score this year for the global energy industry*

*Edelman Trust Barometer 2013; **Ofgem

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