In this series, City A.M. looks at the financial and economic impact of the ongoing pandemic on a range of small and medium-sized businesses across London. This week: how a small West London-based supplier of green energy thrived during last year’s lockdowns.
The pandemic story of So Energy in Chiswick certainly bucked the national trend last year. Only weeks ago, days after celebrating their fifth birthday, they were ranked the eight fastest growing private company in the UK, according to the Fast Track 100 league table for 2020.
The green energy supplier was launched by school friends Charlie and Simon in 2015 as they set out to change what they called the ‘sorry state’ of energy supply.
“Households were being charged too much and getting rubbish service, and we felt we could do things differently by building a business from the bottom up”, co-CEO and co-Founder of So Energy, Simon Oscroft, told City A.M.
Last year, the heat has certainly been on, both in people’s homes and on energy suppliers themselves.
As workers deserted workplaces and plugged in their laptops, home boilers were fired up, particularly during the November lockdown as temperatures plummeted below zero. As essential service providers, suppliers needed to quickly switch their staff to home office working and set up new processes to handle remote calls from customers. Reliable and speedy customer service was more important than ever.
“Compared to the more established suppliers, we rely more heavily on data and technology to design automated processes and smart products. This meant we were able to quickly decamp from our aptly named Power Road office in Chiswick, and get our remote call centre up and running pretty much overnight” said Oscroft.
Whilst a lot of businesses struggled to adapt, and saw a drop in sales and service levels as a result, this reliance on in-house digital technology meant So Energy’s service levels actually improved. For example, Oscroft said that August last year was their strongest ever month of growth.
Over the first quarter of 2020, they were ranked fifth overall for customer service by the consumer champion Citizens Advice which measures things like customer complaints, call waiting times and bill accuracy. In the second quarter, the majority of which was when the country was in a national lockdown, they rose to the top spot.
Since April of last year, So Energy has grown its customer base by 30 per cent and now supplies 100 per cent green energy to almost a quarter of a million households across the country. To cope with the increased demand, they have had to remotely on-board 50 new staff.
Over the summer they also started offering their customers home batteries and solar panels to enable households to generate their own electricity and sell any excess back to the grid.
“We always wanted to build a green energy company, one that directly helps customers cut their carbon footprint. That’s why we only offer 100 per cent green tariffs, but installing solar panels and batteries in customers’ homes takes this to the next level,” said Oscroft.
“We can remotely control both pieces of kit on behalf of the customer, which means they can at times generate most of the electricity needed to power their own homes and then sell any leftover back to the national grid when they need it the most, and therefore pay more for it”, he added.
If there is one positive Oscroft takes away from the pandemic, it’s that people’s environmental consciousness has been raised. “A lot of us, especially those living in cities like London, have recognised things like quieter streets and the lack of contrails in the sky. And at So Energy we’ve certainly noticed an increase in customers wanting to make greener choices this year, particularly as their home energy consumption has gone up,” he explained.
And it’s not just customer habits that have changed during the pandemic. “A few weeks ago we held our company Christmas party on Zoom for all 220 staff, with live actors doing a murder mystery.”
Even when things do return to some form of normality, “we will never go back to a five day office week again – all staff will have the option to work from home 2 days every week,” Oscroft concluded.