Understanding and responding to our customers' needs

Customer Contact Centre employee, Vanessa, talking to a customer

Supporting those most vulnerable in our north of Scotland and central southern England communities is at the forefront of how Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) operates. In the past year, we have focused on really getting to know our customers; delving deeper to get a greater insight into the needs of those in vulnerable situations.

Each year, in advance of the harsh winter months approaching, we encourage people to register for Priority Services, to ensure we always provide the best possible service to those who need it most when faced with the possibility of a power cut.

It would be easy to be reactive and only help those most vulnerable when our network is hit by severe weather events, but we always want the best for our customers. In the last twelve months we have done more to ensure our employees are trained to recognise and respond to signs that a customer at the other end of the phone may be in a vulnerable situation. This proactive approach has allowed us to reach out to more customers on our networks north and south. This approach also paid dividends during our Winter Campaign as we increased our Priority Services Register (PSR) registrations by over 100% compared to the previous year.

2016/17 also saw SSEN’s website ranked 1st overall in the industry by independent auditor Sitemorse which looks at user experience, optimisation and compliance. A key highlight for SSEN was being ranked 1st for accessibility, which is vitally important to us to ensure we are making our website accessible to all.

We are currently going through a period of positive change across the wider energy industry with the introduction of a more robust list of needs codes to register customers alongside two-way data sharing between electricity distributors and suppliers. Both the improved needs codes and two-way data sharing have been introduced by the energy regulator, Ofgem, so that more customers receive the help they need from suppliers and network operators alike.

A key element in the new list of needs codes is the inclusion of temporary codes to encompass life changes, post hospital recovery and young adult householders (under the age of 18). Many of the needs codes are designed in this way, to help people who can become vulnerable for short periods of time, and who may not necessarily describe themselves as being ordinarily “vulnerable”.

At SSEN, we recognised some time ago that people can temporarily become vulnerable when faced with a power cut or emergency situation. We treat each customer as an individual, understanding that their circumstances can change and they may suddenly find themselves feeling vulnerable. For this reason, we created our own code to allow for customers experiencing temporary vulnerability – such as having just left hospital after an operation, dealing with the loss of a loved one or going through a family crisis – so they have the opportunity to join our register and benefit from the support we offer.

By recognising and identifying signs of vulnerability, including those in a temporary state of vulnerability, we can ensure the advice and assistance we give is tailored to each individual. We are delighted to see that this is now recognised across the industry, allowing more people to join the register, benefit from the support on offer and receive a consistent service across the board.

There are lots of benefits of being on SSEN’s Priority Services Register including:

  • A dedicated 24-hour Freephone number for specialist priority help (0800 294 3259);
  • A dedicated and specialised Priority Services Team to help and advise whenever needed;
  • Calls to warn of bad weather approaching, prioritising those medically dependent on electricity;
  • Emergency assistance in association with third parties like British Red Cross, Salvation Army, local authorities and emergency services;
  • During severe weather events and prolonged outages, dedicated employees and connections to local welfare vehicles aim to provide help and support, mobile charging points, hot drinks and food, where appropriate;
  • Welfare packs for our most vulnerable customers containing basic power cut essentials including a torch, hand warmer, glow stick and emergency contact details; and
  • Accessible communications for those who need letters in another format such as Braille, audio CD, large print or alternative language.

For more information on SSEN's Priority Service Register, please visit ssen.co.uk/PriorityServices.

About the author

Julie Walker - Social Obligations Manager at SSEN

Julie Walker

Julie Walker is the Social Obligations Manager for Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks.

Read more articles by Julie Walker