There exists certain marketing-speak that sends alarm bells ringing. Not because these promises of transparency or empowerment or money-saving aren’t genuine, but because we’ve grown cynical with big companies who monopolise their markets and are driven by profits and bugger all else. When you dig further into what renewable energy company Powershop is about, the overarching theme is humans, and its purpose is to help you get a solid grip on how you’re using energy and how you might use less of it.
Ben Burge (pictured) is quite the character. In researching Powershop, we came across numerous television interviews he’s given, and soon learnt he is not your average suit-clad CEO. Instead, Ben wears a huge grin (likely due to Powershop’s recent win of being named the country’s greenest power retailer by Greenpeace), and he’s quick to call the topic of electricity heinously boring. He says, “Up until recently, the model for electricity was, you’d use power during a three-month period, during which time you’d get zero communication from your retailer. Then the first message you receive says, ‘Hey, please pay a thousand bucks,’ with no basis on which to determine whether the bill is accurate, let alone how it compares to your consumption.”
Thus, Powershop started with a simple idea: Tell people exactly how much electricity they’re using before they are asked to pay for it. “Give them an opportunity to plan, budget and change their behaviour,” he says. “It’s in our interest to do this, because customers want to conserve energy whether we help them or not. It’s better for us to actively assist them do that. If they have a good experience, they’re more likely to tell their friends, and referrals are the best way to gain customers.”
With more than 60,000 sign-ups now in Australia, customer advocacy and word-of-mouth continues to be the company’s most important channel. “In an industry devoid of trust, a personal recommendation based on direct experience is the best way of ensuring that prospective customer has a good understanding of what we stand for,” explains Ben.
“Powershop centres on this idea of putting the customer in a position where they can make really good choices that impact their household budget and the planet,” says Ben Burge.
These core values centre on attracting the right staff, trusting them to make good decisions, and also giving them the resources to make things happen. “More and more, we’re finding that great people don’t just turn up for a paycheck; they prioritise working for an organisation of which they can be proud,” says Ben. Rather than an unchanging list of “things we stand for”, the core values are described by Ben as a “living concept”, comprised of ideas that will continue to evolve as the team grows and interacts with each other and with customers.
“If you want to know how a power company is going to treat you, go on Facebook and read what users are saying. Consult independent comparison studies like the Greenpeace Green Electricity Guide,” suggests Ben. Do so and you’ll find Powershop atop the list for its ownership of only renewable assets, an emissions intensity of zero, and various environmentally sound choices. The company is owned by Meridian Energy, which presently owns two wind farms in Australia that generate more energy than Powershop currently sells to customers.
We ask if it’s the usage tracker (via web or mobile app) that is the company’s point of difference. “There are other technologies out there that do what we do. We’ve never emphasised the technology being the primary differentiator,” he asserts. “The thing that drives everyone in this business is that we’re all customers as well as employees. Our team is focused on how the customer feels, often imagining that their brother or their mum is on the other end of the phone. Putting ourselves in their shoes, sitting around their kitchen table, reminds us that it’s a human experience first and foremost.”
Ben Burge, Powershop CEO, is a speaker at Purpose, running 7 & 8 December.
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