Welcome to the next exciting interview in my new Customer Service series. I wanted to kick things off with decisions about what we’re actually having for breakfast but today’s all inspiring guest had other ideas. Please welcome Greg Jackson, Founder & CEO of Octopus Energy.
Instead of all important menu choices, Greg was keen to open breakfast with one fundamental observation about the importance of looking after customers by saying that “Capitalism is absolutely predicated on looking after customers, and if companies don’t do that we see increasing dissatisfaction with the system, so unlike many leaders I don’t customer service as an add-on – it’s absolutely fundamental to democratic capitalism.”
Afterwards, Greg admitted to me that he doesn’t usually have breakfast (no wonder he was so intent on getting down to business!) but apparently, ‘Just for me,’ he’d opt for ‘2 soft fried eggs, bacon, bubble and squeak and tinned tomatoes…. and lots of coffee.’ Just a snack then? I can go with the eggs, tomatoes and coffee but his second choice of Thai spicy beef with rice and 2 fried eggs wasn’t quite as tempting! Yuck.
I asked Greg to tell me more about his role as CEO and he sees himself as ‘lucky enough to have a very varied job.’ His overall responsibility is to ‘Set the strategy and then ensure we implement it effectively. I spend most of my time on the places I can add most value, where leadership is key, or which I think are most important. So I really focus on customers, technology, team and the future of energy.’
What that means is that Greg spends maybe an hour a day dealing directly with customers and states that is ‘So I know what they really want and need, and what their experience of us is like, and a lot of time discussing trade-offs that affect customers (eg. pricing strategy, organisation, issues like smart meters.’ The emails he deals with, and social media interactions mean that he can then focus the company on ‘The areas we need to improve, and discuss them with our fantastic team.’ Just brilliant!
Greg believes that ‘Technology is the Octopus difference. Our founding team were from tech rather than energy backgrounds, and we are determinedly using tech to drive down prices, enable great service and drive towards a renewable future through the smart grid – which is essential to decarbonise affordably.’
He went on to say that ‘Our people are the absolute priority… so I try to spend a lot of time chatting to team members, at every level – and communicating both ways both informally and formally. One cool thing I really believe is important is “Family Dinner” – where we get the whole company together every Friday at 515pm to discuss key topics from the preceding week, and upcoming changes. All of this is essential because we need to really understand and respect each other to make work enjoyable and rewarding, and enjoy doing the right thing rather than just turning up to work and doing as we’re told.’ I just love this philosophy and really wish that other companies and CEOs would watch and learn because if they don’t they are sadly missing a trick or two at the expense of their employees- and customers.
Greg says that ‘The future of energy must be renewable and affordable.’ He spends a lot of time working with the Octopus team and external stakeholders like Ofgem and the government looking at how they can ‘drive this future faster. For example, if we can have a more dynamic grid, where green electrons travelling short distances on empty wires cost less, then we’ll be able to adopt necessary changes like electric vehicles more quickly and cheaply.’
I asked Greg to tell me more about the history of Octopus Energy and its values and he said ‘I’ve always cared about environmental issues – I joined Greenpeace when I was 16. And then when I first owned a home I hated the way energy companies behaved – hiking prices as soon as I wasn’t looking, and not giving a monkeys about service. So after I sold my previous business (a technology business) I knew I’d love to create a business, which used technology to transform the sector.’
Greg says that when he met Simon Rogerson, founder of the Octopus Group, in 2015, he pitched him the idea. ‘Octopus Group were perfect- not only does Octopus Group run one of the UK’s most respected VC funds, but they have also invested £2.5bn in renewable generation.’
Greg concluded here by saying that ‘Our values still date to the original founding ideas. We are passionate about driving renewable energy, fighting climate change and delivering outrageous levels of customer service with fair prices.’ This is just beyond admirable as most other energy companies manage to cover zero of the aforementioned values.
Greg’s first job was when he was at school as he did a milk round. This sounded tough with Greg ‘Starting at 630am and running around town for an hour or two carrying heavy, freezing milk. There were two companies delivering milk in our town – and we were determined to be the best for customers by delivering all the milk before 8am which meant running the whole time. That really helped create a strong customer-focused work ethic, which I also inherited from my mother.’ After leaving school at 16, he was writing video games, before going to university a year later, which is where he gets his tech background.
Greg says that the best parts of his job ‘Are seeing our team grow. I don’t mean in numbers, but as individuals. Creating fantastic jobs that allow people to blossom and then seeing it happen is fantastic. Everything we do is thanks to the team- winning Which? Only Recommended Energy Provider 2 years in a row led to amazing celebrations as the whole team revelled in the external validation of their efforts.’ I think I want to work for Octopus. Wonder if they need someone to make tea?
As for a dream job, Greg states quite simply and quickly, ‘This one! Although I always fancied a stint as a motorcycle courier (electric, of course). But I honestly can’t think of anything I’d enjoy more than I do now – making a significant positive difference to our climate, to people’s lives and creating a workplace that’s designed to let people flourish by being themselves.’ I’m a bit lost for words now. Greg really needs to write a manual for other CEOs!
I asked Greg what he did to relax and quite unsurprisingly this was the response. ‘There’s not much of that. I’m not complaining – see previous answer! I think one thing, which causes stress is not feeling in control, and frankly CEOs are privileged to have a lot of control, so I probably have less need to relax. I do love spending time with my two boys – Zach, 2 and Lucas, 12, and try not to let work get in the way of that. I finish work early twice a week to “do the school run”, which is really important to me.’
We chatted about what makes Octopus stand out as an energy provider and I was really pleased with Greg’s take on this, ‘Externally, we are obsessive on customer service. For example, every 0.1 we gain or lose on Trustpilot is a massive deal internally as it’s a great barometer of how we’re doing. But given that we’re at 9.5/10 and the Big 6 average is 2.5/10 you can see how focused we are on service! Not only that, but we’ve actively driven change in energy pricing – we don’t have a loyalty penalty, and campaigned for the energy price cap to help dampen the pricing excesses of our rivals.’ Greg went on to say that ‘Internally, we know that the key to this – and to enabling the smart grid we need to go renewable – is technology, and this is the real driver of us being “standout”.’ To date, Octopus Energy is impressively the only supplier recommended by WhichUK.
Finally, Greg comments that the Octopus team are ‘Remarkable. We don’t have a call centre, but instead we hire supersmart people and give them a great system, and then they can each look after customers end-to-end. We organise around customers – we have teams of 9 or so customer operations people, and each team looks after 50,000 customers – doing everything for them. These teams are pretty much autonomous so that instead of following regimented rules, the teams do what’s right for customers. We only have two KPIs – customer happiness and productivity, so teams are focused entirely on great customer experience and being efficient so we can keep prices down.’ I find it incredibly hard to believe that if Octopus Energy can work along this lines and provide a fair and decent service for its customers, that other energy companies just can’t!
I asked Greg why he thought the service from other energy companies such as my current nemesis Outfox the Market was so dire and his take was ‘I can’t really speak about any specific company, but most energy companies are still mainly run by people who grew up in energy, and were focused on generation. Customers were merely the “recipients”. Most companies say they are customer-centric, then have massive call-centres miles from HQ – even in other continents. We have two customer teams right next to our directors so we truly know what customers feel.’ The more I chat to Greg, the more I absolutely love him. The lack of connection between those at the top of the bun and those at the bottom is exactly the reason why so many problems exist in companies and it’s one which is never, ever addressed properly.
Greg believes that among his rivals, ‘Customer service is seen as a cost-centre, with costs to be reduced as much as possible. Meanwhile, the companies are optimised on how to get customers onto expensive tariffs without them noticing. Customer service is a function, which is treated as bottom of the pile… no wonder they don’t give good service! We elevate the role of looking after customers to the most important in the business. Price is a key component of customer experience, and Jeff Bezos of Amazon said “there are companies who work really hard to cut prices, and there are others who work really hard to increase them”. Energy companies have traditionally fallen into the latter category.’ I am now running out of words for the praise I have for Greg and Octopus Energy. It’s Customer Service as Customer Service really should be.
As for where he and Octopus Energy will be in 10 years time, Greg hopes that ‘We’ll have tens, maybe hundreds, of millions of customers globally. We’ll still be tech-led and customer-focused, but we’ll look less like a utility and more like an energy company – helping customers decarbonise with solar panels, batteries and electric cars. They’ll buy less energy from us, but a broader range of solutions to deliver their energy needs.’ He also hopes that he’ll still have the ‘Same passion, vigour and creativity as I do today!’ I have no doubt that he will.
When asked about his ideal breakfast partner (apart from me) Greg said ‘It’d have to be Elon Musk. No one has done more to challenge perceptions, haste decarbonisation and build incredible businesses. He achieves more per hour than anyone else.’ Couldn’t agree more. Greg would also ‘Quite like a chat with Al Gore and Greta Thunberg too,’ although they wouldn’t be my choices I don’t think.
Thank you so much to Greg for chatting to me today. I am absolutely floating on the wings of Customer Service heaven after our breakfast and will most definitely be instructing His Lordship to check out all Octopus Energy have to offer when we next renew supplier.
Until next time everyone!
Lady Janey x