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Altair – Engaging with customers on net zero

We must apply our experience of customer engagement during times of difficulty to our long-term plans for net zero, says Anne-Marie Bancroft.  

As the sector faces the imminent impact of the removal of the universal credit uplift, and an increase in gas prices, looking to result in many households facing a drop of around £100 per month in income, it should consider how it engages its customers proactively and apply the benefits of this type of engagement to their long-term plans for net zero.

In speaking to several housing organisations, I am enthused to hear that they are taking a proactive approach to this concern by linking their customers to the support that they will need to plan for the financial impact of the changes, whilst being pragmatic about the potential impact on arrears. Some organisations are taking a customer-centred approach with officers holding individual conversations with their customers to discuss the future changes to their income. Others are approaching their customers through targeted communications campaigns to ensure that customers are aware of the impact to their pockets and directing them to support from financial inclusion teams.

When embarking on net zero journeys, organisations should:

  • be fully conscious of the impact to customers
  • ensure their strategies and plans aim to avoid financial detriment to the customer at the outset
  • reduce disruption and cost by planning a co-ordinated approach to planned and cyclical maintenance, fire safety upgrades and net zero measures, engage with customers about net zero transformations at the outset, whilst shaping green strategies
  • have open and honest discussions to ensure approaches to overcome the barriers organisations and their customers face are created.

Effective engagement is key

Organisations must carefully consider their communications approach, how they deploy new technologies, and will work with customers to understand them and use the technology effectively in their homes.

Engagement opportunities should be inclusive and ensure that they capture a wide range of views.  They should involve customers with a variety of views on decarbonisation and the environment, from a variety of backgrounds representative of the customer base and that live in a variety of types of homes. This will create a stronger, more balanced collective opinion. To create an inclusive engagement environment, organisations should consider a variety of engagement techniques to capture customer views from surveys to digital consultations, to in-person interactions. Equally, it is vital that organisations adequately resource effective engagement in their operating model and establish whether they renumerate their customers for their valued time and invest in customer training and support. As we all know the days of sandwiches and cakes for engagement are best left in the past.

In applying the tactics of engagement during times of sudden change, organisations should not lose sight of the value of direct contact with their customers and the effectiveness of individual conversations with officers. When done right, engaging with customers on an individual basis creates a valuable relationship of trust and honesty. When applying this approach to net zero retrofit, organisations should consider how two-way, empathetic and honest conversations with customers work effectively.

Early engagement will lead to added assurance

Effective engagement from the start of the net zero journey will give organisations a better understanding of the future challenges at the delivery stage, create environmental champions for communities and give organisations additional confidence that they are approaching net zero right. There is a huge opportunity in adopting a customer centric approach to net zero. By applying this approach, and vitally bringing customers to the table at the early stage of embarking on the net zero journey, the customer voice will help break down barriers to efficient delivery and help organisations feel confident with their plans and approach.

I’d like to give thanks the teams at ClwydAlyn and Newydd for sharing their approach and their contributions to this article.

Anne-Marie Bancroft is a principal consultant at Altair. If you’d like to discuss your organisations approach to engaging your customers in the conversation about net zero contact [email protected] or [email protected] or 07774 527054

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