“We need to up our game to engage our customers,” says Chuah Kee Heng, Managing Director of SP Services – a subsidiary of Singapore Power.

It’s a common refrain across all public and private sectors. Monopoly suppliers are at risk of disruption; citizens are more mobile than before. So how does an organisation reshape itself when facing huge change?

GovInsider caught up with Chuah at Asian Utility Week to discuss SP Services’ journey ahead.

Disruption

But first, he explains the context of his remarks. Singapore’s electricity market is being disrupted by three forces that necessitate change.

Energy markets across the world are liberalising – privatising services and increasing competition into the markets. “The common themes cut across countries: electricity markets will be more open; competition will be more vibrant; and ultimately, the customer is king,” he says. In Singapore, there will be multiple providers competing by the second half of 2018.

Technology is also rapidly evolving, transforming how services must be delivered. “The pace of change is faster than it has ever been, and continues to accelerate,” he says.

Finally, customer expectations have evolved. People expect to interact directly with a service provider on digital platforms, he notes. SP Services must innovate to keep up.

A new approach

Technology is crucial to their adaptation, Chuah believes. “We have the opportunity to have a deeper and more meaningful engagement with our customers than we ever had before.”

This represents a big change for a company that hasn’t engaged customers proactively in the past. “It has not been part of our DNA,” he says, “previously, we kept the lights on and as long as we did that reliably, there was little expectation on us to be in touch with the customers”.

But the company has a wealth of information on its consumers that it can immediately put to use, he continues. “One area of focus is on energy efficiency. With that data, we can help customers act on their desire to save energy.”

Gamification could even be possible, he continues, and the company already uses aspects of behavioural science to nudge customer behaviour. For instance, customers can compare usage with the national average consumption through charts on their bills. Additionally, historical charts in their bills help raise awareness of consumption patterns and hopefully encourage customers to save.

The company is also planning to develop more apps. This is a big leap for a company that is known for its engineering capabilities, rather than its digital focus. Consequently, the company has embraced innovation and started digitising, he says.

Better Engagement

We are also changing our approach towards talent development. “We need to retain our ethos of reliability and engineering excellence while developing our own people to look at customers differently,” Chuah believes. A useful method is to seek staff feedback, because they are also customers of SP Services, and to build focus groups using staff family and friends.

The second approach is through training. In particular, there can be steps taken to improve staff empathy with consumers, such as self-assessment and awareness tests. Across the organisation, staff must collaborate more so that "we can obtain insights about our customers by tapping on the broader, collective group.”

As a company digitises, however, there is a key risk: data security. “It’s applicable to everyone in energy and the utility world. Cybersecurity is of utmost importance, so I think all of us should take a serious view of it.”

These arguments may sound familiar to the management, whose companies are facing many of the same challenges. Citizens have higher expectations; data can be used in innovative new ways; and security is an every-present concern.

For a company facing disruption, the road ahead may seem “treacherous”, he warns. “But so long as we remain steadfast in serving our customers, I believe we will emerge stronger.”

Image by Joost Rooijmans, licensed under CC BY 2.0