“They are always available to have a conversation, and are quick to respond to any questions we have.” Project Manager, OVO Energy
OVO Energy is a UK energy company working to bring energy to homes in a cheaper, simpler and greener way.
Anyone who has tried to understand their electricity bill knows that deregulation has brought both fierce competition and massive complexity to the marketplace. Estimated or disputed reads, difficulty switching suppliers, and long waits for the call centre are common complaints against the big electricity suppliers.
When OVO Energy entered the energy market they set out to change things by offering simple, efficient, and transparent customer service together with energy at attractive prices.
With a business emphasis on “big service, not big profits” OVO Energy’s call centre needed real efficiency. To achieve a truly high level of customer service this required new software that would deliver fast response times, so customers didn’t have to wait for answers; the effective management of their transactions requiring data from other parties, e.g. suppliers and new tenants; plus, it needed to fully integrate with core management software for tracking client usage and billing. Improving cash flow was another imperative.
When wholesale energy prices are increasing but energy customers are paying a fixed direct debit per month, cash costs can quickly overtake cash revenues. With hundreds of thousands of energy customers it is no mean feat for a supplier to calculate new direct debit values, apply them and communicate these to the customer. This was an absolute necessity for the success of the new system.
Ballard Chalmers is one of the UK’s foremost experts in energy sector custom software systems development and integration, with a track record of delivering on projects for many of the sector’s major players. The relationship with OVO Energy extends back to 2010 and as such, Ballard Chalmers was contracted to develop their software system based on BizTalk Server 2010, ASP.NET 4.0 and SQL Server 2008 R2 and 2012.
ASP.NET web pages are used directly by call centre operatives, whilst BizTalk Server handles the business processes, long-running transactions and integration with the account management and financial systems that run the business.
The software system automates a number of functions, including:
- Direct Debit Refunds: Allows refunds to be given to individual clients where requested. The system calculates the amount of refund based on the user’s energy consumption.
- Direct Debit Review: Recalculates customer direct debits based on their consumption pattern.
- Direct Debit Batch Review: Performs batch review of large numbers of accounts to ensure that direct debits are correct.
- Change of Tenancy: Manages the switching of an account between old and new tenants in rental properties, both of whom have to be contacted to complete the transaction.
- Disputed Reads: Manages the disputed read process which typically occurs when customers switch suppliers and suppliers claim different readings.
- Collection Management: Managing payments from customers that have not managed to keep up with their direct debits, through the use of pre-pay meters and other methods.
- Smart Meter Installation: Automated booking system for managing the installation of Smart Meters, for use by the call centre and direct online use by customers.
Support: The support hours began on go-live of the system with hours purchased on account and called off as they are used. The support is flexible and uncomplicated, being used for fixes, as well as updates, routine maintenance and system health checks.
Jonathan Stickler, Project Manager at OVO Energy said, “The web application links to our digital server and updates our database. It integrates with our billing platform, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, our Application Programming Interface (API), and our capacity platform. We have about 80 engineers within the company, and the capacity platform coordinates their scheduling and availability for appointments. New features include improvements to emergency and maintenance booking, with ways to improve the process for our agents.”
Ballard Chalmers continues to partner with OVO Energy on innovating new ideas which enables the organisation to offer an advanced service to its customers. Projects have included extending the Smart Meter booking system to allow close management of booking patterns, so as to ensure that there will be sufficient booking capacity to cover market demand. There is also a project for the extension of the collections management system to include more automation of data transfers between OVO Energy and third-party debt collection organisations.
On the relationship with Ballard Chalmers, Jonathan Stickler said, “They are always available to have a conversation, and are quick to respond to any questions we have. The openness within the channels is great…They deploy changes quickly, and show good flexibility to address any issues we have. They are integrated into our work communications. We have weekly phone meetings with the project manager and the developers, and it’s easy to email or message team members directly.”
Geoff Ballard, Chief Technical Officer Ballard Chalmers added, “We believe in the simplicity of making things work better. Technology evolves so quickly, so even when software is implemented and working perfectly, we’ll look at it afterwards and see how we could build upon it. This modus operandi aligns well with OVO because they too are always looking for ways to improve. We’ve been working with them since 2010 and the relationship continues to grow because we both believe so strongly in customer satisfaction as the end result.”