Perhaps more than any other sector, the energy industry has an engagement problem.

The average consumer spends around seven minutes per year dealing with their energy supplier. To make matters worse, those seven minutes often provide a negative, sometimes painful experience, navigating through a slow or unhelpful call centre to report a problem, discuss their tariff or try to switch supplier.

This situation isn't good for consumers and it isn't good for our planet either. Poor customer experience from energy suppliers is putting people off thinking about their energy consumption and making greener choices. It's a big problem and a real barrier to efforts to hit net-zero targets.

This is why we have to start engaging people around energy. And this has to start with suppliers like us providing customers with a more seamless and positive experience.

Rebels, Rebelots and a new level of customer experience

At Rebel Energy, we're using robots or digital workers (we call ours, The Rebelots) to provide a more human, personal experience for our customers. That might sound counter-intuitive but, in reality, it's not.

We're automating high volume, high frequency back-office processes which are traditionally a drain on both time and morale for call centre staff. And in doing so, we're able to free up our customer service team to give customers more meaningful and helpful support.

We would prefer that our staff spent less time on repetitive aspects of processes such as taking payments, recording readings or altering addresses. The Rebelots can complement the activity by taking on the more mundane parts of the task and can do so on a continuous basis.

We want our people to spend time talking to customers helping them to make informed decisions which are better for them and for the environment. We want to support the most vulnerable customers, having to choose between food and heat.

This is a completely new approach to customer services within the energy sector, one that really values the customer, rather than taking them for granted.

On top of this, we don't see treating customers fairly and with respect, addressing climate issues and generating profit as mutually exclusive goals. We can combine all three and, in doing so, we can ensure greater numbers of people take part in the energy transition.

Starting out with an automation-first approach

We're building a business with digital innovation at its core. This allows us to operate with the efficiency required to build a sustainable business in a fiercely competitive market, delivering an enhanced level of customer experience.

We've been able to design our business with automation from day one, developing processes that harness the strengths and capabilities of both people and digital workers. We're not in a position where we're having to retro-fit automation over long-established and highly complex processes, or deal with the integration and legacy IT issues that can be a barrier to transformation.

But even so, by deploying a cloud-based digital workforce, we can ensure data flows around our business quickly and effectively, acting as the integration layer between systems and avoiding the need for APIs. We're working with Blue Prism, the Intelligent Automation platform, which means that our digital workers are continuously improving, using AI and Machine Learning to detect anomalies and flag issues to our customer services team.

Just one example where automation is delivering a more efficient and streamlined process is within our pricing team. The Rebelots significantly reduce the time to update prices from a few hours to just minutes. This frees up the team to concentrate on the analytical aspects of the role. More broadly, we're looking to automate a number of front and back-office processes to deliver a more seamless experience for customers and ensure our teams can focus on higher-value work.

This includes automating as much of the customer onboarding process as possible, taking away the frustration that consumers often experience when trying to switch suppliers. We're also looking at how we can use automation to improve the staff onboarding process, helping our Rebels to settle in quickly, particularly when they're working remotely.

We're also exploring how we can connect the online and offline worlds, allowing customers to provide us documents in any format (for example sending us a photo of their meter reading), using a digital worker and OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to gather the necessary data and keep account records updated.

A culture of automation

First and foremost, we're a people business. We're the first renewable energy company to lead with a joined-up social and environmental mandate; we're aiming to lift people out of fuel poverty with affordable green energy tariffs, and to create a business that can change society for good in an impactful and sustainable way. And we want to provide our staff with the most interesting, rewarding and supportive environment that we can to achieve this.

By employing digital workers to carry out the repetitive processes common to the energy industry, we can create more fulfilling roles for our highly skilled 'Rebels', whilst also helping them to develop skills in AI and systems design.

We see automation as playing a vital role enabling a high-quality experience for customers and freeing up our brilliant people to play a leading role in the green energy transition. Automation is about driving efficiencies, but it's what these efficiencies enable us to do that really matters.