Gazprom Energy’s Stephen Beard explains how to switch energy suppliers, without compromising service and quality.
For many businesses, winter provides the perfect opportunity to switch energy suppliers in order to improve services and reduce costs. But some companies can be reluctant to change to a different contract because they’re fearful that their service may be compromised in the process.
Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be like that. With a little research and some forward planning, companies can ensure that there is a smooth transition between energy suppliers, and business continues to run as usual.
One of the biggest issues facing UK SMEs is the amount of money that they spend on energy use. On average, an SME will spend £2,500 on electricity each year, and £3,200 on gas. These high bills can sometimes hinder business growth and prevent a healthy cashflow.
Often, switching can ensure businesses are benefiting from more competitive rates, and greater flexibility and security in the length of contract, or contract type. For example, many business energy suppliers now offer fixedrate energy contracts, where you have security over the rate you are paying, making it easy to track and forecast how much you’ll be paying each year. Not only could this result in significant savings, but the more flexible terms could be particularly beneficial for many companies. In addition, a 2014 survey from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) revealed that 81% of businesses surveyed said that their energy suppliers don’t care about their needs. Switching may be the answer for these customers.
However, it’s important that businesses do their research before making the changeover, so that when they switch, they do so to a supplier that does care. Gazprom Energy, for example, regularly monitors satisfaction levels with all of its corporate and SME customers to identify where changes to service need to be made.
How to switch
Firstly, businesses need to check that they are able to switch. Business contracts, generally, can only be switched at the end of a contract, so customers need to give adequate notice to their supplier that they want to terminate their contract.
Businesses should then set time aside to do some research to find the right contract for them. Once a preferred supplier and deal has been identified, they’ll need to provide confirmation that they want to move to that supplier.
The new supplier will then capture the business registration details and will start the switching process, including taking meter readings and liaising with the relevant people and organisations to make the switch happen.
Once the switch has been made, the new supplier will provide confirmation, and issue any welcome information to the customer.
The industry standard in the UK, which came into effect on 10 November 2014, dictates that all suppliers must work to a minimum transfer time of 15 calendar days.
Finding the right supplier
Two-thirds of the small businesses surveyed by FSB believed that switching energy supplier can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. To ensure a seamless move between suppliers, it’s vital that businesses determine whether their new supplier is offering a level of service that will meet their requirements. To do this, businesses should look at the support and services provided, including:
- CUSTOMER SERVICE: It’s important to think about what you currently use, and what the level of service is like; will a new supplier provide you with a better and more responsive service? Who will you speak to, and where are they based? You want to deal with someone who understands your needs and can quickly respond to resolve your query.
- ONLINE SELF-SERVICE SUPPORT: It’s becoming increasingly common for business energy suppliers to offer self-service access to account information so that customers can track usage and access their bills and accounts over time.
- ENERGY SERVICES: Likewise, many business energy suppliers now offer a series of energy services that allow their customers to track usage and bills over time, through online portals or software. This can make it easier to improve energy efficiency and avoid wastage by giving businesses valuable data that can be acted upon.
- ACCOUNT MANAGEMENT: Some energy customers prefer to have a personalised service, so that they can easily approach their supplier for information and advice. Depending on the supplier, levels of service range from dealing with customer service via a call centre, to being assigned a dedicated account handler to oversee the contract from start to finish. It’s reasonable to expect that a higher level of service will incur a higher cost, but for many businesses, the additional expense for a more comprehensive service, is more than justifiable.
- MONITORING: As well as supplying customers with the technology necessary to record and monitor usage data, some suppliers will regularly review their customer’s usage on their behalf. Many also provide energy efficiency tools to enable customers to understand their usage patterns, along with guidance on how they can reduce wastage. For example, new electricity customers joining Gazprom Energy are provided with a smart meter, free of charge, which allows them to better monitor and manage consumption.
‘Statement of renewal terms’
To help micro businesses better manage their energy procurement, suppliers must draw up a ‘Statement of Renewal Terms’ to clearly state when the contract begins and ends.
While many businesses are hesitant to switch because they fear a drop in service quality, or a power outage during the transition, switching energy contracts has never been easier. With plenty of forward planning, there is no need for any interruption. Switching can be quick, easy, and can save businesses a great deal of money in the long run, freeing up valuable cash to be used elsewhere in the company.