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Commercial policy and customer care

Activities related to Hera’s customer base showed varying performance during the year, depending on the service provided.

The first aspect that is worthy of note is the introduction, starting 1 January 2013, of the TARES (Waste and Service Tax), to replace the TIA (the Environmental Hygiene Tariff) and the TARSU (the Tax for the disposal of solid urban waste).

For this reason, the contracts related to the management of the TIA can no longer be considered as part of the Group’s customer base. Currently, the Hera Group has been awarded for 2013 the contract to assess and collect the new tax in 74 municipalities, out of the 77 for which it managed the TIA service. 

The regulated water-service market, without considering the Acegas-APS customers, witnessed inertial growth of 0.1% from June 2012, a paceslower than in previous years, due to a decrease begun in 2012 and attributable to the lower number of connections determined by the crisis in the property sector. 

Very good results continue to be obtained in the electric energy market, where commercial activities in the eligible market and the increase in new customers show good performances, despite the economic crisis and strong competitive pressures. Electric energy firmed up its year-on-year growth, as it was up 9.5% in June 2013, not including the Acegas-APS Service and EstEnergy customers.

On the other hand, performance in the gas market was affected by two phenomena in the period under review. On one side a major commercial effort was undertaken to intensify value creation from the existing customer base in the geographical area where the Group operates. On the other, the competitive pressure and the churn rate were higher than last year. The combined effects of both led to the overall 0.4% decrease of the customer base between June 2012 and June 2013, not including EstEnergy’s customers.

As of June 2013, Hera’s customer base, excluding those covered by environmental hygiene contracts, rose by 1.6% on the comparable June 2012 figure, to a total of 2.866 withdrawal points. This in addition to the 493 thousand Acegas-APS customers. Accordingly, at 30 June 2013, the Group had a total of 3.358 million withdrawal points.

Withdrawal points30.June.2013*30.June.2012Change in withdrawal points (no.)Change in withdrawal points (%)
Gas1,2241,116         107.79.64%
Electricity692517         175.033.87%
Water1,4421,187         255.621.54%

Amounts in thousands

*Includes Acegas-APS  (EstEnergy pro rata)

Concerning commercial development, the second half of 2012 and the first half of 2013 marked significant progress in the number of new customers.

Electricity drove growth and massive-customer segments – i.e. households and small companies – were the main contributors in terms of new customers.

The results achieved came in better than budget.

As indicated above, between the end of 2012 and the early months of 2013, growth in the gas segment was driven strongly by the existing customer base. This activity went hand in hand with the development of new customers.

In the first six months of 2013, the commercial effort to encourage customers to switch to the eligible market generated about 85,000 new contracts.

Also in 2013 the offering portfolio used in the commercial activity was balanced among all the customer segments available in the market. Hera Comm continues to place significant emphasis on its presence in these segments through diversified offering portfolio and selling structures.

In April 2012 Hera Comm launched a number of new electricity and gas offerings - “Prezzo Netto Hera Casa”, “Prezzo Netto Hera Lavoro” and “Prezzo Netto Hera Impresa” – for the massive household, SoHo and business segments based on wholesale prices (PUN –National Single Price – for electricity and TTF – Title Transfer Facility – for gas).

This new offering portfolio replaced “Momento Giusto” and, thanks to the results obtained, it was confirmed also for the first half of 2013.

To support the existing offering portfolio, the end of 2012 saw the launch of a further offer, dual fuel, which makes it possible to lock in the reference price of the commodity for 2 years, for households ("Prezzo Fisso Hera Casa") and small businesses ("Prezzo Fisso Hera Lavoro").

With an eye to environmental friendliness, the two offerings for the household segment (Prezzo Netto and Prezzo Fisso)  were tweaked to offer versions with a green energy option ("Prezzo Fisso Hera Casa Natura" and “Prezzo Netto Hera con opzione verde”).

In addition to the price peculiarities, the offerings include mandatory e-billing and payment of the bill through a direct bank debit, to dematerialise customer communications, and the guarantee of 100% green energy.    

For customers in residential buildings, an offering called “Risparmio Luce Condomini” was launched, which fits the gas offering used by the segment’s accounts.

The usual offerings were extended also to larger customers with the introduction of products linked to the wholesale market, fit to customer needs.

Currently, the portfolio is undergoing a review, which will be completed in the second half of 2013. 

The following data pertain to customer management and contact channels.

In the first half of 2013, contact channels (including IVR) handled about 2,208,000 contacts, representing an average of approximately 17,700 contacts a day, up 5.7% on the comparable figure for 2012.

The increase involved all the channels (especially the internet) and was more pronounced in the first two months of 2013, when change on 2012 was 14.2% and 10.5% in January and February, respectively.

The main reasons for the above increase included credit- and mailing-related activities with final customers.

Despite the growing complexity in the management of the issues concerning final customers, contact channels maintained good service levels, largely in line with budget.

The most critical months were January and February, when performance forboth the branches and the call centres did not meet the set objectives, due to the high number of customer contacts, though it was still more than satisfactory. 

However,  performance improved strongly in March and was back in line with the norm in May.

Another reason that affected in part the performance of the call centre and the branches was the significant commercial effort. While reaching out to final customers to a greater degree did not generate an increase in contacts (the increase was mostly in cases to be handled by the back office), it did have an impact on the time to handle customer inquiries (1-1.5 minutes the branch and 20-30 seconds at the call centre) and, consequently, on such KPIs as wait time and % not in line with the standards.  

Branches: an average of about 2,800 contacts a day was managed, up 6% on 2012,for a total of 353,000 contacts. While the levels of service reached by the branches in the early months of the year fell slightly, they were still very good and exceeded the set objectives.

Average wait time (AWT) was 11.56 versus a target of 13.34 while the % not in line with standards was 5.91% versus a target of 5.32%.

Family Call Centre: the first six months of 2013 saw 91.5% of calls answered by operators compared to a target of 92.4%. 

Average wait time was 103.9 seconds compared to a target of 96.7 seconds.

Excluding the first two months of the year, featuring a major peak of call centre contacts, both indicators showed performances above expectations with 92.9% of calls answered and AWT of 96.6 seconds. The second half of the year is expected to meet the targets set in the budget.

Company Call Centre: the first six months of 2013 saw 94.5% of calls answered by operators compared to a target of 95%.

Average wait time (AWT) was 69.7 seconds compared to a target of 60 seconds.

Also in this case, if no account is taken of the first two months of the year, both indicators showed very good  performances, with 95.4% of calls answered and AWT of 65.1 seconds.

In the first half of 2013 the branch network underwent rationalization and optimization work, which resulted in improved customer service.

Three marginal branches were closed, which were open one day a  week (for approximately 0.5% of total visits); three new ones were opened in areas not previously covered, which are open every day, while two other branches were restructured and expanded.  

In addition, activities continued, in line with previous years, to create a lean organisation in view of the constant improvement of customer service and the efficiency of internal structures. Steps taken in the first half of 2013 included Hera on Line, correspondence and the Modena branch, with substantial productivity and quality improvements.

The excellent work performed by the contact channels resulted in the further improvement of quality as perceived by the customers that contacted the call centre and the branch system.

In fact, the on-going survey confirmed a higher level of satisfaction compared to the already excellent results obtained in the first half of 2012 and 2011 and, most of all, much higher than the targets set for 2013.   

  • Family Call Centre: 80.18 vs. 79.10 first half 2012 and 75.83 first half 2011
  • Company Call Centre: 74.93 vs. 73.46 first half 2012 and 69.10 first half 2011
  • Branches: 81.29 vs. 80.47 first half 2012 and 77.73 first half 2011

Lastly, attention is called to the major effort undertaken by the internal organisation to improve Acegas-Aps’s CRM services. This activity resulted in the substantial reduction of the average wait time at the call centre (from 9 minutes in 2012 to the current 30 seconds) and in the Trieste branch (from 29 minutes in 2012 to the current 14 minutes).

With a view to improving the way the customer base is managed, thus enhancing its value, campaigns continue to encourage efficient behaviours.

Actions on the use of online contact centres and to adopt e-billing were taken through specific instruments.

Between the end of 2012 and the early months of 2013, the customer base was reached through below-the-line activities, to promote the tree planting campaign together with the adoption of e-billing.

The repercussions on the registrations for online services and e-billing were very positive, making it possible to continue along the growth path of 2012:  

  • online help desk: 18 thousand new registrations in the first half of 2013, bringing total registered customers to more than 175 thousand (up 6% on year-end 2012; 10% of the overall customer base);
  • e-billing: 13 thousandnew registrations in the first half of 2013, taking the number of total registered customers to more than 77 thousand (up 20% on year-end 2012).

Moreover, in 2013 projects were implemented to improve usability and user’s experience in utilising online services. These activities led to the creation of the new Hera online portal, featuring a new design, a more intuitive organisation of contents, greater speed of interaction, data and information collection, case handling.

Analysis, planning and redesign activities were carried out also through the direct involvement of final customers, in line with the customer proximity and relationship policy that the Group has been pursuing constantly.

The new on-line portal will go live in July 2013 and details of its use will be available in the second half of the year.