On Wednesday 13th March, I attended the Future Retail Conference at the 99 City Conference Centre, Old Street, London. This was my first ever event in the water industry and it was a great learning experience for myself. I took a lot away from the day, which will serve me well in my day-to-day role.
I arrived at Old Street station a little nervous, not quite knowing what to expect from the day. However, everyone was very welcoming and friendly from the start, which put me at ease immediately.
Customers in the water retail market
The day started with an introduction to the event from Lois Vallely, Editor, Water.Retail (@LoisVallely). We then began the first talk from Phil Marshal, Deputy CEO of CC Water on ‘What customers are telling us, and what the industry can do about it’. He shared the results of the recent customer awareness survey and what these mean for the industry. According to the survey, satisfaction with retail services is at 70% and nearly 9 in 10 customers are happy with the switching process.
The second talk of the day was from Emma Kelso, Senior Director of Customers & Casework, Ofwat, on ‘How to engage the 90% of customers still not bought into the open market’. This was very insightful as she displayed the vision for the business retail water market and the progress of the market so far. Interestingly, of the 48% of eligible customers aware of the market, around 10% of these have switched or are considering switching.
Next on the programme was a panel discussion with Matthew Power, Utilities Commercial Manager, BT and Claire Yeates, Director, Water Scan. This was on the topic of ‘Customer experience & self-supply’. It was very interesting to hear how Nottingham City Council are the second council to recently go self-supply.
After a quick break, some more coffee, amazing shortbread and a bit of networking, we then got stuck into the next talk by Samir Rahim, CIO, MOSL. This was on the topic of ‘Optimising Bilateral transactions to deliver an improved customer experience’.
Improving the wholesaler-retailer relationship
According to MOSL analysis there are a few issues that need ironing out to improve the wholesaler & retailer relationship and the overall customer experience. To resolve these issues, retailers need to compromise on individual requirements for the greater benefit of the market, adopt a phased approach, and adopt a mindset of “yes, how” rather than “no, because”.
The next presentation was from Simon Bennett, Head of Wholesale Service, Bristol Water. Simon’s talk was titled ‘Where there’s a will there’s a way, The RWG’. This was a very engaging talk and it was nice to hear a familiar name mentioned (our very own Andrew Bamber! Who is Vice Chair of the group). It was also great to see The RWG (Retailer Wholesaler Group) mission and how they come together to try and improve the market by putting the customer at the forefront.
We then moved on to a panel discussion with 4 senior industry experts about how we can improve the wholesaler-retailer relationship. Phil Marshall of CC Water suggested that culture and behaviour can be a blocker to resolving issues between the two. However, it was positive to hear that we are moving in the right direction overall (with groups like the RWG)!
Can blockchain help the water retail market?
After a top-notch lunch (some of the best chicken I’ve had in a long time) we moved on to a talk around ‘How blockchain could help the retail market’, delivered by Nick Rutherford from Bristol Water. This began with a good-humoured intro about being tall, which was accompanied with some very entertaining comparison pics with a former colleague and a statue of the world’s tallest ! It was interesting to hear how blockchain could be beneficial as we are in a relatively new market and we don’t have to deal with some of the legacy issues like other markets.
How can retailers improve their data?
Next on the programme was Dr Stephen Beer, MD of Bridgeall, talking about ‘Maximising the potential of data, technology, and innovation to drive growth’. Followed by the last presentation of the day from Richard Stanbrook, Director, Pennon Water Services on ‘Improving data completeness to support market growth’. I found this talk very engaging, especially the section on the reality of why we need good data and how we can improve.
The final panel discussion of the day and (am I allowed to say… my favourite), was on the subject of ‘Exploring marketing complexity and strategies for growth’. This discussion was an eye opener for myself and featured some healthy debate from both the panel and members of the audience.
One topic I found really insightful was around data and how this may impact the market. This was spoken about a lot throughout the day and appeared to be a common theme.
Overall, I had a great day at Future Retail #2 and if this event is anything to go by, these are brilliant for personal development and there is a lot of insight to be gained from them. I will now remember this day as the time I expanded my knowledge of the water retail market, indulged in some great chicken and got an achy wrist from taking so many notes!