A day in the life of an Energy Helper
Our writer Jackson goes on the road with Max Laker, one of Octopus Energy's expert Energy Helpers, joining their mission to visit 500,000 customers in need this Winter. These heroes walk about 20kms every day, doing whatever they can to help people use energy efficiently (and greenly) to help them save money on their bills.
As Max explains - most people aren’t used to the idea of a company coming to your door to help you spend less on what they’re selling - so you can imagine the day was full of surprises...
Come along with Max on our virtual energy helper visit:
Max rings the bell, and after a moment, the door opens. A woman in a bright green jumper looks us up and down…
What religion are you two selling then?
I turn to Max, in his pink and blue Octopus-emblazoned Jacket, and then peer down at my own. It certainly does look a bit like that. Just as I get tempted to say something like ‘did you know there’s a mysterious energy running through your home?’, or maybe - ‘we’ve come to talk to you about our lord and saviour Constantine’, Max cuts in with a characteristically kind laugh and begins to explain…
We’re from Octopus Energy, I’m Max. I’m an Energy Helper, and this is Jackson, he’s coming with me for the day. We’re just here to see how you’re getting on - whether we can help you save some money on your bills, that’s all.
The woman smiles - it’s clearly not what she was expecting. Afterwards, Max will tell me that ‘once they realise, people do genuinely seem to appreciate that we’re here to help’, and as the day goes on, he’s proven right time and time again.
Who are the Energy Helpers?
Max was originally part of Octopus’ door-to-door sales team, but when Covid struck, he and his colleagues - unable to visit homes directly - were quickly redeployed to answer customer queries by email, and then over the phone.
Now, armed with an impressive wealth of energy know-how and buckets of experience looking after customers, the Energy Helpers form an invaluable tentacle on the Octopus plan to help customers through the energy crisis.
What can the Energy Helpers do to help?
The woman in the bright green jumper, now convinced that we aren’t trying to recruit her into our cephalopod-centric religion, thinks for a moment, and invites us in.
From the get-go, Max is calm, friendly, and extraordinarily competent. ‘Have you been doing anything to cut your energy usage recently?’ he asks, now standing in the hallway. She explains that she’s been turning off her telly when it’s been on standby but that’s about it. So Max gets to work, asking a few key questions:
‘Is your hot tap generally too warm to hold your hands under?’
‘What type of lightbulbs do you use?’
By the time we shut the door, the woman is halfway to her boiler, about to turn down the flow temperature (a move which can save most customers £112 annually) and is already set on replacing her old lightbulbs, having been told that on top of that, LED lighting could save her £10 per bulb per year. These are just a couple of the energy saving tips that Max shares across the day - tailoring support to each and every house we visit.
Her neighbour, a couple of doors down complains of draughts, which gives Max a chance to whip out every Energy Helper’s favourite tool - the FLIR thermal imaging camera. Suddenly we’re seeing this house in a different light. The dogs turn orange - the walls go purple, and when we shine the camera on the sliding back doors, they’re blue-black around the edges. ‘You’re losing a lot of heat there’ Max explains, motioning from his screen to the leaky seals.
The man rubs the back of his neck. ‘You know I’m really glad my wife isn’t here’, he begins - looking sheepish, ‘you’ve just confirmed everything she warned me about when I got that put in.’
Helping vulnerable customers
The Energy Helpers were specifically set up to help 500,000 of Octopus’ most vulnerable customers - especially those who are harder to reach online. Today Max brings that mission to Patcham, on the edge of Brighton. The neighbourhood is replete with rows of little squat houses, steep hills and occasional glimpses of the sea.
‘This is a mixed demographic area’, Max tells me. ‘Some people need more of a hand than others.’ His screen - connected to Octopus’ powerful home-grown system, Kraken - points the way, giving us important information about who might want help, and what with.
‘How do you feel like the energy crisis is affecting you - is there anything we can do to support you?’ Max asks one customer on the doorstep - his voice sincere and sympathetic.
‘I suppose it’s the same as a lot of people - our bills have gone up a fair bit’, replies the man with a big bushy beard.
A moment later, Max has finished explaining how to apply Octopus’ multi-million pound customer assist fund, and the man is eager to see the heat sensitive camera in action.
Max (centre) and his team
Once outside, I ask Max how he finds conversations like that, especially at a difficult time like this. ‘You need a lot of empathy for this job, but you can really make an impact when someone is struggling; you just have to follow their lead - open up a bit,’ he tells me - and it’s clearly true. I realise that so far, this has been a masterclass in social interaction: I’ve watched Max put hesitant people at ease, ask the right questions at exactly the right time, and listen when he needs to listen.
As the sun begins to set, we decide to try one final door, ringing a bell above a door cam. After a moment, a man comes out to meet us. He starts by bringing two fingers to his cheek, mouthing - ‘I’m Deaf!’
To my surprise, Max moves his hand in a circle, mouthing a big friendly ‘hello’ in return, and proceeds to sign his name in BSL, introducing himself before showing his pink Octopus ID. He offers the man - who’s smiling now - a leaflet, chock full of energy saving tips, and he proceeds to take it.
Both bring their fingers up to their chins and then downwards, thanking one another, and we all wave goodbye. On the garden path, I turn to Max, impressed. He tells me that he has some Deaf family members and that I’d be surprised how often it comes in handy. I’ve always known that Octopus places a high price on accessibility - it’s a huge part of our mission to cater for all customers, no matter their needs - but to see that in practice is truly, truly heartwarming.
Energy Helpers - climate helpers
Ultimately, the energy helpers have a dual mission. As they set off everyday to lend a tentacle to those who could use one, they also help the electrical grid, and with every energy saving tip reducing the amount of dirty gas needed to power the UK’s energy system.
Max explains this to one woman with greying hair and bright eyes framed by little spectacles as we stand in her front garden: ‘if you sign up to our Saving Sessions, you can even earn £100 this winter for using less energy when the UK grid is full of fossil fuels…’
‘Oh, I know all about that’, she replies, and produces her Octopus app to show us just how much she managed to save on the last session. ‘I think it’s great, I just wish we could do away with all that rubbish and get more clean energy from out there’, she says, gesturing towards the sea.
As per usual, Max knows just what to say - ‘well via our Fan Club you can put your community down for a local wind turbine, and in return - when the wind blows, you’ll all get 20% - or even 50% off your bills. We’ve got several up and running already, and we’re planning to do offshore wind turbines for coastal communities soon’ - and the woman promises she will.
I leave Patcham impressed, with a sense that in their own, quiet, determined way, the Energy Helpers find themselves on the frontline of both the climate crisis and the energy crisis. As they walk around 20 km out of their way, every day, to help those who need it most, Max and his team provide an indispensable service, cutting bills, and carbon footprints.
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