Smart meters, digital channels and CRM are top priorities for British Gas

Smart meters, digital channels and reducing customer complaints by implanting a new CRM system are top of the agenda for British Gas over the coming year.

Smart meters, digital channels and reducing customer complaints by implementing a new CRM system, are top of the IT agenda for British Gas over the coming year.

The company highlighted a series of technology aims and ambitions for the next 12 months in its financial results published today.

The smart connected home

The smart connected home is key to the future growth of British Gas, with plans to target 2.4 million residential smart meter installations by the end of next year.

The company said it has already installed one million residential smart meters, with plans to roll out 1.3 million by the end of the year, but only 350,000 customers are so far receiving smart energy reports.

“We strongly support the 2020 mandate for full smart roll-out and are on track to support the ‘go live’ of the Data Communications Company in December next year and to lead industry testing of the new systems in mid-2015. We encourage the industry, government and regulatory bodies to maintain momentum on all fronts to ensure the smart roll-out is delivered on schedule,” said the British Gas results statement.

The company, which is owned by Centrica, said smart meters will bring an end to estimated bills, and greater ability to monitor and reduce consumption while making it easier and faster to switch between suppliers.

Additionally the firm has sold 100,000 smart thermostats to date, and increased sales of the Hive brand, which provides remote heating control and was launched almost a year ago.

It is also trialing a smart meter “Free Saturdays or Sundays” energy tariff, which it hopes will be available widely from next year.

British Gas hopes that providing added-extra technologies in the home will make its service more compelling.

"Apps and the internet have transformed home entertainment, but they have not had much impact on the rest of the home," said Andrew Brem managing director of commercial & product development at the Connected Homes business of British Gas, in an interview with Computer Weekly in September last year. 

"People seem to lead unpredictable lives, but unlike much of life, the home is totally fixed and not related to how they run their life."

But this is changing. For instance, paying for parking via a smartphone has many benefits, he said.

Through Connected Homes, British Gas provides a service and app to switch the heating on and off remotely.

According to Brem, 40% of users interact with the remote heating control app at least once a day. "Almost 25% of gas usage is wasted when either you are not at home or when you are asleep. Remote heating control lets you control gas consumption," he said.

Digital channels

Like any customer-facing business, British Gas has the challenge of dealing with consumers online. The company said that around two-thirds of its customer interactions are now made through digital channels, with around half of those coming from a mobile or tablet device.

The energy supplier also pointed out that the number of residential sales coming through digital channels has nearly trebled in the first half of this year compared to last, while 1.3 million customers have downloaded its mobile application.

Customer relationship management

The company is in the process of implementing a new billing system which will simplify bills for customers and enable British Gas to deliver improved service and lower cost.

The new customer relationship management (CRM) platform will simplify direct debit payments and the process customers have to go through when moving home. British Gas intends to complete the migration of residential customers to the new single billing and CRM platform in the autumn.

“We are targeting a significant reduction in customer complaints over the next three years,” said British Gas, which wants to create a more integrated customer experience using the new CRM platform.

In the past, British Gas has had problems with CRM. The company has worked hard to repair a damaged reputation since deteriorating customer service standards caused the defection of approximately a million customers in 2006. Between 2008 and 2010 the firm moved from having the least satisfied customers to having the most favourable ratings, according to a Morgan Stanley survey.

In the last couple of years it has rolled out an SAP CRM system, which replaced a myriad of systems, including Siebel databases and bespoke or highly-modified software, and was intended to simplify the processes for callcentre agents in handling the queries of millions of UK customers.

With its previous CRM system, British Gas employees had to process 20-30 screens of information, but the SAP system reduced this to “a couple” instead.

“The process of moving home and changing suppliers is very complicated, there are many complexities that make up the UK system - it is not a British Gas process - but you have to deal with all that," said British Gas CIO David Cooper in an interview with Computer Weekly in 2012.

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