Embedding our customer’s voice into our future

04 May 2022

Since November last year, people from across Essential Energy including executive, senior leaders, customer teams, asset management and operational team members, met with nearly 500 customers, small and medium businesses; Councils; young people, and CALD and indigenous groups.

Having genuine, meaningful and most importantly, collaborative discussions with so many people in the height of the Delta COVID pandemic required a deep commitment from all groups to contribute in the forums to develop our 2024-29 Regulatory Proposal.

Fortunately, the prevalence of online interaction over the past two years, enabled people to participate, with the added comfort of not leaving their home or business.

The first round of three community engagement sessions focused on 'Setting the scene’ to establish customer and stakeholders’ preference in the following four areas:

  1. What priorities do customers, business partners and stakeholders want Essential Energy to focus on and in what order?
  2. What makes good customer service and how should it be measured?
  3. How should Essential Energy value risk in investment decision making and what weight should each risk have?
  4. What are customers’, business partners’ and stakeholders’ visions for the future and what will customers seek from Essential Energy in the network of the future?

Customer priorities

  • Public and employee safety is expected and must continue to be fundamental to all Essential Energy activities.
  • Cost is a concern for all customers, so ensuring electricity supply remains affordable is important.
  • Essential Energy must provide a reliable and consistent electricity supply.
  • Transparency for bill itemisation, to understand bills and reduce costs. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander customers and customers who identified as being from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) community highlighted the need for patience, respect and sensitivity for customer service.
  • A focus on facilitating renewables and innovative technologies was also seen as important, particularly by youth participants.

Priorities diagram

Figure 1: Reliability and resilience

Next steps

In the next phase of engagement, we will be asking customers if they agree with these new priorities and to rank them in order of importance.

Customer service measures

  • Expectations for good customer service centred on clear, timely and simple communication, via multiple channels. Of particular importance was to keep customers up to date with planned outage time frames and if an unplanned outage, the estimated time the power will be restored. Business partners, developers and retailers are particularly interested in the time it takes for new connections to the network.
  • The speed to resolve a customer complaint is considered a valuable measure. There is also support for the use of customer surveys and providing immediate feedback after interactions with Essential Energy.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and CALD community representatives preferred the use of internal measures to reduce issues with language barriers or comprehension.
  • There was limited support amongst customer forum participants for retaining the current measure of customer service – the percentage of phone calls answered within 30 seconds.

Customer service diagram

Measuring customer service immediately after an interaction with Essential Energy was also commonly raised as an additional potential customer service measure to be considered by the business.

Next steps

Essential Energy has taken the findings of the engagement on board and is currently examining what would be involved in adopting the preferred measures.

Investment decision making

Essential Energy uses a risk-based investment decision model incorporating a range of risk factors. Projects that give the best total risk reduction are prioritised ahead of those that alleviate less risk.

Most participants at our customer forums believed that the five risk categories we shared covered all the important risks that should be considered. Participants gave weightings to each risk, these are shown in the following figure. Some business partners weighted reliability lower and customer experience higher.

Risk weighting diagram

In addition, a number of suggestions were put forward.

Suggestion Response
Include risk for climate change and reducing carbon emissions As there is currently no industry-agreed approach to valuing carbon emissions and climate change factors, we do not think it is currently viable to consider these factors as a separate, measurable risk. Instead, we will instead consider them within our existing risk measures, including bushfire and reliability risks.We will continue to monitor government policy, community sentiment and the industry’s progress towards developing a value for carbon emissions and look to adopt this as a separate measure when appropriate.
Include risk related to network utilisation and long-term longevity, including from a resilience perspective

We agree that these factors are important, but we do not think of them as a separate risk because they already form part of our decisions. Improving network utilisation and long-term longevity are now key aspects of our updated Corporate Strategy, and our regulatory framework already requires us to make prudent and efficient investment decisions that are in the long-term interests of consumers.

With falling technology prices and increasing customer support for the adoption of new technologies and a more resilient network, alternatives like Stand Alone Power Systems and composite poles are now attractive and viable long-term asset replacements in specific locations. Other new technologies, like electric vehicles, and the introduction of new pricing structures will also improve the utilisation of our network.

Some thought safety should be inbuilt into every project and therefore shouldn’t warrant a high weighting or even a specific piece of the pie.
We agree that safety is a core business and customer priority that cannot be overlooked in decision making. Therefore, we do not think it can be excluded from the risk assessment. Also, we cannot rely on building safety into every project because many projects undertaken each year are unrelated to safety, such as increasing the capacity of a transformer.
Bushfire starts was commonly thought to be an aspect of safety and therefore very closely related. The two could be combined into one risk factor with a significant weighting.
We do not think we would be able to combine these two factors, because the relevant legislation underlying each risk is extensive and distinctly different. In addition, there are also many examples of Safety projects that are unrelated to Bushfire Starts and vice versa.
There was also some discussion about how the weightings needed to change based on locations, as in some locations certain risks were perceived to be more important than in others, e.g., bushfire risk.
We already consider the likelihood of a risk occurring in a specific location. In assessing risk, we consider three factors: the probability of failure, the likelihood of consequences and the cost of consequences. For example, where a particular location has a high probability of a bushfire, this would be reflected in a higher rating for the probability of failure, and higher ratings for costs of any associated consequences. This allows earlier intervention in higher risk locations.


The network of the future

Essential Energy shared a range of technologies and market opportunities encompassing the future network to see how customers wanted to see the electricity network operating in 10-15 years’ time. The vision for the future included:

  • more use of renewables such as solar panels, wind farms, hydro and less reliance on coal
  • more household and business solar panels
  • adoption of smart meters, smart appliances and home energy management systems
  • uptake of electric vehicles (EV’s)
  • use of batteries (and EV’s) to store energy
  • shared generation, storage and trading of electricity at the community level

There was some concern over the possible issues around bill complexity and disposal of batteries and solar panels.

The picture below attempts to summarise this vision.

Network vision map

Next steps

We support this vision and want to put strategies and projects in place to ensure we meet customers’ future needs. We will continue to collaborate with customers and stakeholders over the next phases of engagement to ensure their views inform the trade-off discussions and investment decisions that will ultimately feed into our 2024-29 Regulatory Proposal.

What's next?

Insights from the first round of engagement informed the second round of engagement held in February and March 2022 and were shared with the participants during the session. They will also continue to inform the final stage of customer and stakeholder engagement as the business works to deliver a co-designed Regulatory Proposal.

You can read more about the first round of engagement and Essential Energy’s response to the insights in the full engagement report here.

All Essential Energy customers, community members and stakeholders are welcome to engage in this process and can email yoursay@essentialenergy.com.au to learn how to participate.