25th March 2020
How Octopus Energy is working to handle Coronavirus
Greg Jackson, Founder
A lot of people have asked us what we’re doing to adapt in light of Coronavirus. Whether we’re still providing our usual level of customer service, and how we’re looking after both customers and our team...
As an energy company, we play a critical role in the continuity of supply to our customers when it’s more important than ever to have reliable power at home. I wanted to take a minute to explain what we are doing as a business to keep your lights on and your homes warm, whilst looking after our people, and our customers.
We’re following government advice closely and will likely need to tweak our approach as the situation evolves – this page will be updated regularly.
This blog covers all you need to know as a customer of Octopus during the outbreak. But we've also got a bunch of other resources available around Coronavirus and Octopus Energy...
- Hear from our CEO for an in-depth look at our responses to the crisis here.
- Read about how we're campaigning the government on behalf of customers.
- Get tonnes of activities for young kids at home via our OctoKids and OctoKidsTV initiatives.
- Our data scientists provide initial learnings on how the UK's home energy consumption is being affected by Coronavirus.
- Discover the new safety measures put in place for our metering engineers and read about their work volunteering for essential services during the lockdown.
- Read up on our best energy saving tips to help you think about your usage while you're at home more.
- Read on for how the outbreak could impact you as a customer of Octopus.
What you need to know
We’re still here to help
Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday 23rd March, our team of energy specialists transitioned to working from home, and we've been a fully remote operation since. From June 1st, our UK offices will be opened for people to who need to work from the office (and who are able to commute in without using public transport). The technology our business is built on, Kraken, allows us to be really adaptable, so we’re aiming to maintain the same level of service wherever possible. Phone lines are still open 9am til 5pm, Monday to Friday, and digital customer service is still available via email, Facebook and Twitter 8am til 10pm, seven days a week.
I'm happy to report that we've adapted well to our new remote operation, and service levels are still really high. But we are busier than normal, in keeping with many service organisations at the moment who are managing both increased enquiries and supporting their staff. For that reason, I'd ask that before you get in touch with us directly, why not see if our site has the answer...
There’s lots you can do with your online account, including submitting meter readings, updating your Direct Debit details, or even telling us you’re moving house.
If you don’t find what you’re looking for, here’s how you can get in touch with us.
Paying your bills during Coronavirus
A few customers have got in touch with us to say that they have been financially affected by Coronavirus. Although there isn’t currently a standard government programme for support with energy bills (so they do still need to be paid), we want to be as helpful as possible.
During the Coronavirus period, we won’t start debt collection, or disconnect any credit meters, for customers who let us know they need help.
If you’re in need of support, please provide us some details. We aim to get in touch within 48 hours to outline the ways we can help.
We’re making changes to our business-as-usual home visits (like meter readings and engineer appointments)
Since the beginning of lockdown, the majority of smart meter installations have been halted to ensure the safety of our customers and our engineers. Throughout this time, we've still been able to help in emergencies (for example, if you’ve got no power, or your meter is faulty) – providing our engineers additional safety training and advice for these appointments.
Following an update to government guidance, we’ve begun slowly ramping up smart meter installations once again, prioritising (wherever possible) customers whose appointments were delayed by Covid-19 or whose installations are urgent.
Our meter readers halted their regular quarterly appointments from the beginning of lockdown, but, following a change in government advice, have restarted their regular visits again. As always, you can submit readings online.
After being largely halted throughout lockdown, our field and telesales teams are slowly getting back to work (with new training and equipment to keep reps and potential customers safe)
Octopus Energy sales reps stopped all in-person sales conversations when lockdown began. As of mid-July, the team are beginning to knock on doors again. To ensure the safety of staff, and potential customers, these small field sales teams have made a number of changes to the way they’re operating. Customers are no longer required to touch their devices with a signature, or provide bank details, and sales are now completed with a verification call (which is where we'll ask for bank details). On top of this, these teams are all wearing plastic face masks, have been provided with sanitiser for both their tablets and their hands, and will always keep at least 2m from all members of the public. Obviously, they'll never enter any customer's house, even if invited.
All telesales offices were also closed throughout lockdown in line with government advice. As things have begun to ease up, teams across the country are heading back into the office and will resume phone conversations with potential customers.
If you have prepayment meters…
The government has confirmed that most top-up locations (like supermarkets and corner shops) will remain open to help you top up as normal. Power is a necessity, so it’s fine to leave your home to top up – though in line with government advice, we’d recommend topping up as much as possible in one go to avoid unnecessary trips outside.
Find your local top-up spots at www.paypoint.com.
If you can’t top up for any reason, (for example, if you have coronavirus and can’t leave the house), we recommend asking friends, family or neighbours to top up for you as a first port of call. If this isn’t possible just get in touch and we’ll help.
For more information on topping up in the current circumstances, head over to Citizen's Advice.
Coronavirus and the Octopus Energy team
Octopus Energy employs over 700 people across England, Scotland and Wales, the majority in roles directly looking after customers, and we’ve been watching the updates on Covid-19 with as much focus and concern as the rest of the UK.
What we’re doing to support our team is best explained by our Director of Operations, Jon Paull, so I’ve shared below some of the updates he’s given to our teams over the last few weeks.
Update May 27th 2020: From the 1st June we'll be carefully (and in line with all government guidance) opening up our offices to those who need to work from the office rather than working from home, and for team members who are able to travel there without using public transport.
You can read our assessment of the risk in all our UK offices based on government workplace safety guidelines via the PDF below.
Monday 23rd March:
Following the success of last week, where something like 3/4 of our staff worked from home and the business ran pretty much as well as usual, we know that we are capable of working remotely with great service to customers and maintaining momentum on all projects and initiatives.
Combined with the escalating requests from the government to reduce unnecessary travel, we are updating our approach.
From now on, Octopus by default is a "working from home" business. We’ll keep offices open for people who cannot WFH. Those in office roles will not be asked to come to the office.
I know that for people with kids, in particular, this could be hard and you should discuss with your manager how to make this work. The company will be as flexible as possible, and we know that you will be too.
Wednesday 19th March:
Today, the government has updated their advice so we are making some slight amendments to the guidance I provided on Friday.
Most importantly, everyone needs to do what is right for them in regards to their personal circumstances, while we all band together to continue supporting our customers and the continuity of their energy supply and services.
We will continue to open all offices: We will be undertaking regular deep cleans of offices and until advised otherwise, continue to open all offices.
Our field sales teams will be temporarily stood down.
People living with, or in regular contact with, high risk or vulnerable people should now work full time from home.
People must self-isolate for 14 days if they have or are living with anyone presenting symptoms: Anyone presenting with symptoms, or with anyone in their home presenting with symptoms, is now required to self-isolate for 14 days. To be clear, if you have any symptoms or live at home with someone that does, you should work from home for 14 days irrespective of your assigned group.
Monday 16th March:
As the situation with the current outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus has now evolved, we will be taking a number of further steps to do our bit to help reduce risks for ourselves and our customers. This is likely going to be a tough few months so we need to work together, support each other, our customers, our partners and 3rd parties during this challenging time.
It is important we remember, as an energy company, we play a critical role in the continuity of supply ⚡ 🔌⚡🔌 to our customers and the economy more broadly. This is an opportunity for us to pull together and show our customers (and industry) that our operating model, technology and freedom and responsibility model are designed to support ultra-decentralisation.
From this, we may discover incredible new ways to work for the future while testing the resilience of our business and teams. It will give us a great opportunity for example, to demonstrate the positive impact of reduced daily travel to and from work each day while still delivering brilliant service to our customers and teams.
Creating the best solutions for our customers, people and partners is critical. We have a great responsibility to make sure we get the balance right.
I’m proud of everyone’s response so far – for pulling together as a levelheaded, super-capable team, and for responding across the board with scientific thinking and without panic or complacency. I know we’ll continue in the same way.
A few changes (effective from Monday the 16th)
Travel: All non-critical inter-office travel will be temporarily stopped. Anyone needing to travel for any urgent reasons between offices must get the OK from their team head.
Remote working: Remote working has always been a core part of our business but we will be testing it at scale over the coming weeks.
Going digital: All external meetings are to be moved to video conference wherever possible.
Services to the customer: The supply of energy to services is critical and it is our duty to continue to deliver outrageously good service to our customers while making sure our most vulnerable customers are looked after. We will be taking a number of extra precautions though to help support this:
- Additional training has been provided to all agencies and our teams at Octopus Energy Services (field sales and metering teams) to ensure they take necessary precautions and are protected
- Where we need to provide emergency services to a customer who is in isolation or may have been exposed, we will absolutely still be doing this but have additional processes to follow. Further guidance on this will be provided shortly.
- Service partners (such as DDC and CC33) are being supported to enable them to also work from home. This will ensure we will maintain our capacity for both digital and voice contact throughout this time.
- Additional customer messaging (including in the IVR) are being readied (should we need them).
- Emergency credit will be made available for Prepayment and vulnerable customers affected by the virus.
A quick note on the importance of being agile in a crisis
As a tech-based energy supplier, we’ve built Octopus Energy to be adaptable. Our cutting edge technology, our systems, the way we organise our teams, and our working habits – have all been designed to allow us to surmount a wide range of hurdles, be that travel disruption, internet outages, hacking, or in this case – Coronavirus.
These are difficult times for everyone, but I’m really proud of my colleagues for their professionalism and commitment to our customers. Our customer facing people are working confidently from home, answering customer calls and emails and our technical teams are supporting remotely to make sure they have the tools they need. So far, our remote working has gone well, with service standards high on both phones and email enquiries. Thankfully:
- Our tech means that all our team members need are a laptop and a headset. They can log onto the internet and immediately begin supporting customers by phone or email, carrying out all the same support functionality as they can in the office.
- We’ve always had a culture of “freedom and responsibility”. This has meant that teams were able to quickly self-organise. We didn’t need a lot of top down command and control.
Despite only making the decision to go remote on Thursday night, announcing it by Friday afternoon, and carrying out our plan on Monday, our call wait times have actually improved by 15% so far, falling from an average of 136 seconds to 113 seconds. We also replied to around 5% more emails than we did the previous Monday.
Still, we’re busier than normal, so I’d just ask that if you can, see if you can make any changes via your online account, or find an answer to any questions via our FAQs, or by perusing our ‘energy explained’ blogs.
To contact us (whether your query is associated with Covid-19, or otherwise), don’t hesitate to reach out and get in touch in a way that suits you.
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