27 Nov 2017

It’s time for business to learn from the Dalai Lama. It is he who says “When you think everything is someone else’s fault, you will suffer a lot.” And blow me down, the latest research into how to handle consumer price rises suggests he’s right.

Some of the big energy companies have repeatedly tried to blame increased bills on the government’s green levies. But there are facts that help you win an audience and others that turn people off. Blaming the Big Bad State has not worked for the “Big 6” utilities companies – something confirmed when Hanover and reputation intelligence company alva recently co-hosted an event for the industry.

Data prepared for the workshop digested all media and online mentions of the companies in question over two years, from national newspaper coverage through to citizen tweets and Facebook comments. The price-rise explanations majored on by each company were matched against how favourable the overall comment was about each company. This gave an insight into which price-rises explanations worked and which didn’t.

Bottom of the list were “blaming government policy” and “blaming wholesale energy prices.” In the middle was highlighting how long prices had been frozen or near-frozen for; along with trying to explain how general business costs had risen.

Highlighting alternative tariffs available to customers came in at number four on the list. At number three was explaining the costs of implementing government policy (rather than seeming to complain about green levies). The second most effective explanation was to focus on investment in new infrastructure.

Confirming the communications mantra that people care more about people than about things, number one on the list was explaining special protections for vulnerable customers.

So, taking it all together: companies which pointed the finger at others and seemed to be complaining had a harder time than those which highlighted how they were investing, how consumers could dodge the worst price rises and how special help was on offer for those most in need.

Simple common sense? So often, the road to the supposedly obvious is a tortured one. Green levies are of course one important explanation for power bills being as they are. Boardroom frustration at the way politicians have dodged this bullet, partly by encouraging a mob mentality about the Big 6, is entirely understandable.

The lesson here applies across all consumer-facing businesses. No matter how unfairly a corporation feels it has been treated, people don’t like finger-pointing. In the words of Johnny Mercer’s old song, it pays to “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative”. That’s what gets results.

The full recording of alva’s webinar on the topic can be found here.