Virginie discusses the importance of customer education in the competitive energy industry and how she uses “Co-creation” to create an engaging culture for her team
Forefront Magazine: When you joined Great Eastern Energy (GEE) in 2014, the company had recently gone through a rebranding, the vision had been identified, and the values were in place but they were not connected to the business objective. How did you go about addressing this by looking at the customer experience and how that would impact lead generation?
Virginie Glaenzer: Rebranding is an internal process similar to a personal introspection with the goal being to find out what defines you as a company. In essence rebranding is a necessary internal exercise that is crucial for any company with a long history like GEE if it is going to continue to grow and adapt to new market challenges and opportunities.
Therefore, our CEO invited the staff to collaborate with him in defining a new vision along with identifying brand values. After that, we were ready to take it to the next level. It then fell to the sales and marketing teams to focus on the customer experience through the lens of these newly minted brand values. In order to create a sustainable business process, we created an internal workflow starting from the moment a prospect calls to the moment they renew their first contract. As a result, our lead generation increased by 250% in the first six months.
FM: Why is it so important in the energy industry to educate customers and how did you go about creating content to teach them about things like regulations in energy, standards you should expect from your energy provider, and how to reduce energy consumption?
VG: The energy industry is unique due to deregulation in the 1990s. Surprisingly, only 14 states have taken advantage of this opportunity. It’s important that businesses in these states be made aware of the advantages that deregulation provides. For example, it opens the door to competition, which in turn drives prices down and offers companies a wider variety of products.
At the same time, deregulation has also brought with it a “wild west” mentally which can lead to bad business practices. We need to educate people on what they are entitled to and set the right expectations. When competitors misbehave it hurts energy providers like GEE. To support our efforts, we are active members of ACCES, ”The American Coalition of Competitive Energy Suppliers,” whose mission is to advocate best practices and help consumers better understand and take advantage of the benefits of choice when it comes to energy. This organization helps educate the public on their rights and options, as well as available programs and incentives offered by different providers, designed to encourage sustainability and reduce energy consumption.
FM: How has educating customers impacted customer acquisitions?
VG: Educating businesses and helping them better understand the energy market is directly tied to demand generation. Businesses want to feel supported by an energy partner who has their best interests in mind. We take that role very seriously and our mission is to help our customers reduce their energy consumption through best practices and new energy sources. We believe that this is the right thing to do for our planet and for future generations.
FM: How have you gone about streamlining the internal processes and implementing technology to help drive the goals of the organization?
VG: Streamlining internal processes takes two things: data driven technologies and training employees. The latter is the most important and challenging step. We use the Kaizen philosophy, which helps our team thrive and work towards continuous improvement. Kaizen means, “change for better.” When used in the business sense and applied to the workplace, Kaizen refers to activities that continually improve all functions and involve all employees from the CEO to the data entry workers. One example of continuous improvement is the use of Six Sigma methodology to resolve any problems by looking at its root cause.
FM: The changes at GEE have started with the CEO, Matthew Lanfear, who is pushing the initiatives and looking to change the culture. Can you discuss The Energy Bus book that he asked the company to read? How was this book used to change the outlook and help people understand how positive thinking can have an impact? What impact did it have on you personally?
VG: Improving any company culture is a long and continuing process; and it doesn’t happen overnight. Our CEO started this process two years ago. We started with the Briggs Meyers test to promote the idea that understanding others helps collaboration. The Energy Bus has been a real trigger for many to improve their lives with positive thinking. Life is a mix of good and not so good events and it becomes a personal choice as to how we want to look at things. Looking at the glass half full will always be the better path. This book promotes the idea that once you decide to look at your life from this viewpoint, you put in place the structure that will invite more fulfilling experiences and deflect negative thoughts, occurrences and people, or as the book refers to them, “energy vampires.”
As for my own experience, reading the book was refreshing. My belief goes a little further in the sense that you can create and define your own life by choosing thoughts based on your desires and therefore influence and mold your future. These concepts are being explained in current thought trends such as the Law of Attraction, which is a direct result of several Quantum physics laws applied to our reality.
FM: As a leader, co-creation is a key for you. Can you talk about the importance of co-creation and how you develop a culture for your team that focuses on the idea that the value of what you create as a unit will be greater than going it alone?
VG: Co-creating is both a philosophy and methodology. It starts with the belief that two people will create a better result than one could do alone. Co-creating is collaboration at its best. When co-creating, a project is open to a team and everyone can bring their suggestions and contributions. However, the project owner will ultimately have the final decision in choosing what they believe to be the best solution, which keeps project accountability and responsibility.
Co-creation can only be implemented when two things happen:
- First, people must place their trust in others, which is directly tied to trusting yourself.
- Second, people must remove or reduce their ego and fear in order to let others participate.
Finally, I use a strict set of key performance indicators for each individual, which keeps people accountable not only for their individual tasks but to the team as a whole.
FM: What parallels do you see between leadership and parenting and how do you adapt this to people on your team? What similarities do you see with leading your team and parenting your 3 daughters at home?
VG: To me, leadership and parenting are similar in the sense that they are both about sharing experiences. I feel strongly about sharing my experience as a leader and a parent as a way to help others. It’s not about protecting, nor is it about showing others how to do something. It’s about sharing my experiences in a way that others can relate to and use. In marketing, we are using a new approach called Responsive Design storytelling. It’s about capturing your audience’s attention and then guiding them through an interactive flow of information that tells your story in a way that’s uniquely useful to the individual.
In other words, don’t tell me your story; tell me the story that is relevant to me in which I can participate. This same principal can be applied when leading a team in the workplace or raising children in the home.
FM: From a development standpoint, you talked about the importance of recognizing that not everyone wants to be in a leadership position. Can you talk about the importance of recognizing this and how you go about locating those that have leadership aspirations and potential?
VG: Everyone is different and have individual preferences and goals. Some people might want to manage, while for others, their goal might be to become an expert in a specific area. It is an outdated concept that every employee aspires to be a manager. When I meet one of my team members for the first time I ask them what they want to be doing in three to five years and who they want to become. Some people have a clear vision and others have no idea. My role is to help them figure out a plan that will benefit the organization while helping them reach their personal goals.
FM: How do you go about putting a plan in place for people whether they aspire to be in leadership positions or not?
VG: The first step is to recognize the next position the individual is targeting. From there, when new opportunities arise, I can help the person identify these opportunities and make the right choices.
FM: Why is it important for people to know and be thinking about what the next step in their career will be?
VG: People who love their jobs are much more productive than others. Therefore it is important to help people identify how they want to evolve in an organization, and which skill set(s) they want to acquire or improve upon. Helping them identify their next role will help them make better decisions when taking on new projects and will likely increase their satisfaction, happiness and productivity.
FM: What is the best advice that you would offer to young professionals that aspire to be in a role similar to yours and how have you taken your own advice in your career to get to where you are today?
VG: I find that having mentors throughout my career is key in helping me step back from my day-to-day experiences and look at the big picture. It’s also a wonderful way to benefit from others’ experience and avoid their mistakes. Finally, it’s a great way to add relationships to your network. Finding the right mentor can take time. Write down a list of qualities and experiences you’d like your mentor to have. Then, attend networking events and join online communities to identify your ideal mentor and then simply ask them. ♦
Virginie's Key Partners:TallGrass Public Relations (PR,Marketing, Social)
Featured Photo: Great Eastern Energy Christmas Party 2014 – (From left to right) Matthew Lanfear, Caroline Student, Virginie Glaenzer, Jeffrey Hayzlett, Seth Menacker
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