Just because a company wears a “green halo”, that does not mean it can disrespect its potential customers

It’s a relatively rare occurrence that I have time, or inclination, to sit down and watch TV – but the past weekend’s elections (in SA, and Batman) was one of the reasons that prompted me to spend some time channel surfing to see what was being said in various quarters about energy/climate policy in those frames:

… however before anyone heads off on a tangent in that respect, let me reiterate what I noted on this LinkedIn thread that “I also know the tendency of many to think of elections as single issue concerns. There are other concerns at play as well in SA (despite the fact energy nerds like us might overlook them)”

At regular intervals over this period, the adverts came on – as a result of which I either flipped channel, or reverted to something akin to a semi-comatose state.  However one particular advertisement did wake me up.  I do apologise that I was not quick enough to snap an image of the screen at the time, but have summed up the high points of how it played out below:

1)  An advertisement by a residentially-focused solar company came on the TV.  These all seem pretty similar in form, and the company names are all pretty unremarkable – but I’m pretty sure that that this one was from True Value Solar (happy to be corrected if someone can point out if it was from some other [Non Memorable Brand] Solar company).

2)  We’re currently happy with our own solar setup (as noted before), so I initially remained in my zen-like state.

3)  However my “BS detector” went on red alert when I heard words along the lines of “how much could you save with your own solar system” in the advert, together with some pretty specific (and large) numbers flashed up on the screen.  Can’t remember what the number was now, but it might have been well in excess of $10,000 (enough to really wake my internal cynic up).

4)  My sense of concern awakened, I proceeded to watch the rest of the advert only to see in the fine print at the end something along the lines of “based on typical customer in South Australia”.

Now, my sense is that it would be widely understood that public perceptions of the energy sector as a whole are pretty much on the nose in recent times (perhaps even taking the mantle of “most despised industry” from the banking sector).  This might be the reason that others are concerned about advertisements like these – but I see things from the other direction:

1)  My perspective is that advertisements like these imply to me a disrespect of potential customers – and my sense is that this is fairly endemic in the energy sector.

2)  With this frame of reference, I perceive many examples of “engineers flogging products” rather than trying to understand what the customer actually wants, and meeting that need.

3)  Unfortunately in this current multi-faceted energy transition, I have a concern that this situation might be getting worse before it gets better – with the influx of new entrants flogging their [INSERT MAGIC BULLET] as if it will cure all ills:
(a)  One of the latest magic bullet seems to be about batteries, with commentary ranging over the whole spectrum about the (for now) “world’s biggest battery” ranging from “does nothing at all” to “does everything, and makes your lunch as well”.
(b)  At a residential level, because of the complexities involved in batteries that aren’t there with (relatively inert) solar PV, we’ve been working in several ways to help on that front for a number of years as noted here (with an interesting aside that this Energy Storage Register developed with this process was available well before the March 2018 launch of what Energy QLD have apparently claimed to be “Australia’s first home battery storage database”)

I noted at the top, just because a “new entrant” in the energy sector wears a green halo (or even dreams of creating the “Uber of energy”, or something like that) does not give them carte-blanche to disrespect the customer.  And, to me, advertisements like this reek of that disrespect.

 

Some context to my perspective on that advertisement

So let me explain some context, to help those who are not aware:

1)  I am an energy nerd, and data junkie, rolled into one.

2)  Given that tendency, operating a company that focuses on helping our customers make better decisions, by making the energy sector more understandable, means a closely aligned mission.  That’s one of the reasons why we have grown over 18 years to serve a large and diverse client base across Australia and elsewhere as well.

3)  We operate in the B2B space (not B2C) but even our interactions with our clients reveal a very broad spread of “energy literacy” in the mix of people we deal with.  This sense is further reinforced by the diverse range of feedback we receive on WattClarity, and with respect to various other services we provide that are in the public domain (like the upgraded RenewEconomy Widget, and others you might come across on different parts of the web).

(a)  Some people know far more than us (and we are very grateful when they help to drag us up the learning curve by pointing out where our software could be better, for instance).

(b)  However we have experienced a big spread of people whose understanding of energy ranges down to what can only be described as “non-existent” or “very basic”.  I would expect that there would be a large distribution of these sorts of people who would have seen the advertisement noted above on free-to-air TV early in whatever evening it was I saw it come on.   I am concerned that these people will not have such a finely tuned BS Detector as my exposure to loads of energy sector data has tuned mine to be.

4)  I’m a happy owner of a residential rooftop PV system at home and keen to continue exploring what the available data can tell me about our own consumption profile.

5)  Oh yes – I live happily in Brisbane, and (though I travel frequently) was definitely at home over the past week when I noticed the South Australian focused case study cited as evidence of how much a Brisbane-based homeowner could save.

 

Perhaps some readers can help me understand?

I’m trying to understand what went on at various stages of the process leading to that advertisement going to air on Brisbane night time TV, but can’t see any real reason that does not suggest that the company was disrespecting its potential customers:

Possibility #1)  Perhaps the company has prepared different case studies for each location, and the TV channel screwed up in broadcasting the wrong one in the wrong location?

Possibility #2)  Perhaps the company does not realise that electricity prices are significantly different in different regions of the NEM?  But I would find that hard to believe given what’s seemed to be a very wide coverage of the debate/discussion/yelling-match at different points in time about how various state government policies have contributed (or not) to different levels of electricity pricing in different locations.

Possibility #3)  Perhaps the company does realise that prices are significantly different, but decided to run with a case study based on a customer in SA in the QLD market in any case?  If they did this, then the next obvious question is why?   How does this not demonstrate disrespect for its potential customer base – to present a case study that is, in large part, irrelevant to the audience that you are targeting?

That’s only the start of the can of worms, however.  I know that the larger energy retailers have invested (and are investing) considerable money in developing dozens of different “typical” customer profiles – based on factors such as:

  • Size and type of residence (free-standing, apartment, etc)
  • Occupancy details (number and type of people, whether they are home during the day or not)
  • Types of energy-hungry gadgets they might have (air-conditioners, pool pumps, etc…)
  • Types of distributed energy resources they have (solar PV, batteries, electric vehicles and software to monitor)
  • Tariff structures (what types of feed-in-tariff is applicable, and so on)
  • and so on…

Given this is the environment we are rapidly transitioning to, for how much longer can any energy service company (green halo or not) expect to get away with gobsmackingly crude case studies that essentially seek to reinforce the very out-dated (by at least a decade) concept “all residential customer are equal”?

Anyone who truly understands the energy sector will know the answer to the question of “how much would a solar system save you” is a very big “it depends…” – so leaving aside the slap in the face that the company seemed to give its potential Brisbane-based customers by not even presenting a case study based on real data for Brisbane, there are still huge (and growing) problems with this sort of very simplistic quotations of (what I strongly suspect are cherry-picked) benefits.

Ultimately, it does not matter what colour your climate-focused ideology, as an energy sector participant we all need to become much better at respecting our potential customers – as (with advertisements like these) we seem to be reinforcing the general public sense that what comes out of our mouths when we speak looks brown, and smells like shit.

 


As a final note, a quick search reveals this case in 2011 where True Value Solar was issued infringement notices by the ACCC for misleading advertising, but this was followed in 2016 by another undertaking (again by TVS) to stop offering what reads to me as bribes for positive reviews.   That’s not a good look!

2011-11-04-ACCCnote-TrueValueSolar

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3 responses to “Just because a company wears a “green halo”, that does not mean it can disrespect its potential customers”

  1. Kathy Trayling says:

    Great article Paul unfortunately some of these companies have been disrespecting customers for some time.
    It is amazing to see some of the assumptions made in their marketing. This is also the case for large commercial solar so companies are given incorrect information to make the business case look more attractive.

  2. Martin says:

    Unfortunately energy pricing is complex and only understood by a relatively small proportion of the population. If an advertisement promises $10,000 per year return it is easy to see the attraction, and harder to understand that it may not be realistic.

  3. Bruce Mountain says:

    Hey Paul, you are turning into a grumpy old man. Of course its complex, in electricity more so than in others. But the incentive to mislead is huge. Here is an idea, why don’t you keep a register of the most egregious claims. I am sure regulators and others would be willing to pay for that. Cheers, Bruce.

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