Eneco shifts from product- to Customer-Oriented: ‘Technology as a Change Agent’
Eneco is transforming from primarily supplying gas, heat, and electricity to becoming a reliable energy partner in the sustainability transition. In addition to in-depth knowledge of individual customers, this requires a broader product offering that is delivered in various combinations by an expanding ecosystem of partners. In the commercial domain, technology, under the leadership of Alex Palma, acts as a driver of change.
Assisted by Anderson MacGyver, a Digital Lighthouse program was set up three years ago, with the broad rollout of Microsoft Dynamics for customer relationship management being the most notable. Due in part to that CRM solution, the tech domain has pushed the transformation to the business. In conversation with involved consultant David Jongste, Alex Palma, Head of Customer within the Business Technology Organization (BTO), talks about the crucial moments, insights, and decisions.
For Palma, the journey begins with his decision to swap his responsibility for the commercial IT domain at PostNL for a similar role at Eneco. “The energy market is one of the most socially relevant sectors. Full of constant changes and in the news every day. In 2019, in addition to the movement toward sustainability, the acquisition of Eneco by a large, capital-heavy party was already in play. Hence, there was a market and there were resources to make something beautiful out of it.”
Former CIO Mario Suykerbuyk and Alex Palma knew each other from their previous work environment, where they were involved in a similar transformation. David Jongste stepped in early in 2019 on behalf of Anderson MacGyver, which is also PostNL’s in-house consultancy. “We helped analyze what needed to change in terms of technology and operations to make the transition in the market,” the consultant said.
This bundled experience contributed to the success of Eneco, now acquired by Mitsubishi. Palma: “We have taken on a large social responsibility: helping the Netherlands and perhaps Europe shift towards sustainable energy use. That means optimally supporting business customers and consumers across a variety of channels.”
“We want to help customers across a variety of channels become sustainable, in the best way possible.“Alex Palma – Head of Business Technology Organization Customer at Eneco
As such, Eneco is transforming from an energy supplier to an energy coach who knows what drives consumers and businesses within their specific context. “The energy transition requires substantial investments, so the advice and customer experience must be extremely good. This then leads to mutual trust and loyalty, which ultimately forms the basis of every relationship.”
David Jongste: “Then, you are no longer competing on price, but a partnership is formed.” Alex Palma agrees: “The real value is in supporting the commoditizing process. This shift puts high demands on the supporting technology. The Digital Lighthouse has helped guide this within the commercial domain.”
Energy providers have traditionally operated based on ‘connection’, which often boiled down to a postal code and house number. “Were you aware that at that time the customer was barely in the picture in a uniform way?” Palma says, “At PostNL, we went through a similar change, although the relationship with an energy provider is much more direct. The intended change is and was from product-focused to customer-focused.”
A single truth
There are several interrelated elements in that transition, all of which you need to get right. Jongste: “Getting to know the customer, adjusting the product portfolio, intelligent pricing and a longer-term customer relationship. With these steps, what was the main route and order?”
According to the Head of Customer, it is crucial to have a clear view of every consumer and business user. “Knowing and understanding what customers want is the starting point of a real relationship. We wanted to have all the information about the individual customer – often spread across multiple internal systems and with our delivery partners – available as a single truth. Having the data in order forms the basis.”
Palma is aware that many companies integrate existing channels and supporting legacy IT through an intermediary layer, but he believes that this does not solve the underlying problems. “You have only created a shell that masks the underlying problems. That’s why we looked for a more fundamental solution.”
Solid core system
“The truth about the customer is the heart of our service,” he continues. “This is where the data from all commercial processes comes together: from marketing, sales, field services, and so on. Our foundation is one CRM system, a solid core where everything comes together.”
David Jongste: “The program goes beyond IT – it involves different ways of organizing and working within commercial teams, adjacent domains, and with partners. Traditionally, multiple parties interact with the customer. In order for their knowledge and insight to filter down to Eneco, they all need to work from the same truth, the aforementioned commercial core where all customer information is uniformly stored and available.”
“Moreover, it requires other capabilities to interact with the customer,” adds the BTO Head of Customer. “In the past, we as Eneco mainly engaged in partner management towards parties that approached customers with commercial offerings. Now it’s about developing a customer engagement ecosystem, where we always know how to approach and support customers based on the data.”
With that, Jongste says, begins the development of customer knowledge and commercial capabilities and processes. “You just mentioned the decoupling of commerce and delivery. Can you tell why that is important?”
Alex Palma: “In the past, commercial agreements were linked to the product to be delivered – such as a possible discount or the length of the contract. Now there is a split between what we offer commercially and what each partner ultimately delivers to which customer. That provides us with the flexibility to offer products from different parties in a variety of bundles.”
David Jongste: “That decoupling is an essential step towards greater product diversity – think about offering heat pumps, solar boilers, charging stations, and so on – and hence the role as an energy partner. Not only do you now have a much better customer view, but you can also move forward on the supply side based on a more dynamic ecosystem of partners.”
Alex Palma: “It is an example of how, through IT and flexibilization of the operating model, you can make the transition from a product-focused to a customer-focused company. Modern technology, in this case in the form of a central CRM system, is thereby operating as a change agent.”
With delivery, it’s first and foremost about reliably fulfilling the role of an energy coach, proposing the best options for sustainability in the right order. “That means orchestrating both the products and the partners who have to start delivering this in the right way and in harmony.”
Furthermore, Palma and his team are aiming for a clear, personalized invoice that contains the exact information customers are looking for. “Not too brief, but not too detailed either. All of this should lead to trust and loyalty. From a commercial point of view, these things are absolutely fundamental.”
“The most successful companies are largely marketed by their customers. Subsequently, you have to be very careful about that, because if you are not transparent in terms of commerce, delivery and billing, you will be downgraded from green to greedy, so to speak.”
The changing interaction with third parties ensures that transformation is not limited to commerce. A holistic view at products and the customer relationship requires alignment between different departments and domains.
“When something is delivered ‘behind the front door’ on behalf of Eneco, often those are the moments of truth for your customers – the moments when you really matter,” Jongste states. “The parties in the supplier ecosystem, for example, determine an important part of the brand experience. How do you deal with that?”
According to Palma, this touches on the question of who owns the customer. “We argue that operational departments and third parties are welcome to use their own data, but that all data on the total context of the customer should be up to date and available. All interaction with the customer, in part on the basis of all that data, is therefore ours.”
“It’s not all finished yet, but what have been the most important lessons learned so far?” Palma: “The ‘drive for change’ is always based on a promising perspective and/or a burning house. In the energy market, although there was a need for sustainability, the mix of solutions differed from case to case. The promising perspective was still surrounded by questions on the product side. We may have underestimated that.”
Since the terrible war in Ukraine and the sharp rise in energy prices in part because of it, there is now a need for change. “Sometimes you have to leverage circumstances to speed things up and give direction – both internally, in terms of technology and for your customers. A better technological and operational base helps us to be prepared for a changing need in the market.”
“Technology helps to be prepared for changing demands in the market.“Alex Palma – Head of Business Technology Organization Customer at Eneco
In summary, three things stand out to David Jongste: based on Eneco’s strategic direction, it was determined what needed to change in the areas of IT and business, in order to then address it step by step over several years. “In addition, the complexity required a good balance between the long term and the delusion of the day. This is where leadership and perseverance come into play.”
“A matter of keeping one’s back straight while seeking connection in multiple areas,” concludes the Head of Customer within Eneco’s BTO organization. “That is not always easy. There is no cookbook available that tells you exactly how to do it all, either. For me, the most important thing is that we ultimately do what is best for our customers and therefore also for the company.”
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