Posted on: 03-30-2011 at 11:19am
By Ignite’s Field Communications Editor Jack Walker
It’s no secret that Stream Energy uses a field of Independent Associates via direct sales to market is energy services in Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Maryland through its subsidiary, Ignite. As someone who has worked in this industry for 15 years, I have a few observations about communicating to a direct sales field.
It’s a fundamental rule in communications to know one’s audience. And what kind of audience does Ignite have as a direct sales firm? First of all, it is important to understand that they are not employees. This is not an internal communications situation. They are independent businesspeople who work with our company, not for our company. Typically, they already have another job. Therefore, being entrepreneurial minded and already employed, the last thing they are looking for is another boss. In fact, they are usually trying to get away from their current one. Given that they are not our employees and probably not fond of being someone else’s employees, they don’t respond well to messages that sound too corporate.
Another thing to remember is that many of them market services on a part-time basis, and a lot of them have yet to reach their earning potential in the business. That makes many of them more or less volunteers, working the opportunity as long-term solution to better their lives. Given this situation and that they’ve probably been at a job all day, communication needs to be light, not heavy. Some humor and playful metaphors are in order. You are dealing with their goals and lifestyles, after all.
In dealing with people’s lifestyles, there are times to focus on the material gains that can be made in the business opportunity you are promoting. But what resonates most with people in this industry is the freedom that direct sales can provide in meeting their lifelong goals. The “expensive toys” that may attract people initially to direct selling are just things to share with their family and not ends in themselves. When people “arrive” they think far less about toys. Instead they focus more on how they can help others.
As a communicator in direct sales, it is important to use inspirational messages; messages that enable independent sales agents to focus on why they are doing this business. An employee does not have to focus that way, as he or she has an immediate paycheck to motivate them. In direct sales, the bigger payout might be further down the road, so keeping big goals in mind is much more important. In others words, communicators need to help them imagine and then weave their dreams.
Paraphrasing a famous philosopher, you can say that he who has a “why” can find a “how.” Thus, it is always important to keep these higher considerations in mind, amidst the day-to-day messaging that needs to take place.
Posted on: 03-24-2011 at 3:29pm
By Senior Director of Communications Paul Thies
At Stream Energy yesterday, our Chairman Rob Snyder shared with our management team a few pieces of interesting news to hit the web. I thought that our consumers and the folks who follow us might be interested in these news items.
There has been a fair amount of debate over the years in Texas by a variety of parties on whether or not energy deregulation is best for consumers. Having been a part of one of the leading electric retailers in Texas for over six years now (i.e Stream Energy), I’ve been privileged to witness the evolution of deregulation firsthand.
Reflecting upon the report that appeared in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram yesterday – Electricity deregulation paying off for Texans – it is gratifying to learn that third-party industry watchers are coming to the conclusion that energy deregulation is a success.
Now when you couple the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram report with the news that complaints to Texas PUC fell 28% in 2010, as reported by Restructuring Today, you can draw the conclusion that consumers are in fact receiving the benefits that energy deregulation promised – namely, competitive pricing, greater options and improved service quality.
Posted on: 03-16-2011 at 4:24pm
By Stream Energy Senior Director of Communications Paul Thies
Today at Stream Energy, we launched a new initiative – members of the firm’s executive team, from Chairman Rob Snyder on down, are taking shifts in Customer Service, answering phone calls from our customers.
The reasons why we’re doing this are simple: 1) we want to interact with our customers, answer their questions and help them with their energy service, so we get direct feedback on their needs; 2) we want to demonstrate to our team mates in Customer Service that we appreciate them and the work they do day in and day out to take care of the people who have selected Stream Energy for their families’ energy needs.
The initiative is straightforward enough: over the course of the next several weeks, two members of the executive team will spend three hours on the phones on their assigned day. Each day, a new pair of executives will take a shift. To make sure that everything runs smoothly and that our customers receive optimal care, each executive is being paired with a Customer Service agent.
Today, our Senior Director of Human Resources Deanna Shelton and I had the privilege of taking the first shift.
To be totally honest, I was a little nervous but my agent partner, Veronica, made the whole process easy on me and was an immense help. For the first 30 minutes, she answered the calls and I listened in, and then it was my turn to talk to customers. It was a lot of fun – the customers were gracious, and the materials we had to work with were a big help. But most of all, I was fortunate to have Veronica who answered my questions and anchored the computer process (which quite frankly is a lot more involved than you may think). I can tell you that Veronica is a pro and did an outstanding job!
The part that I enjoyed the most about my shift was actually talking with the customers and getting to know them on a first-name basis (albeit briefly). The whole experience was very enlightening, and I give credit where credit is due – to Veronica (and the whole Customer Service gang).
I asked Deanna Shelton what she thought about her shift, and she told me, “My experience as a Customer Operations Agent went very well today due to the superpowers of my shift buddy, Andrea, who happens to be one of our best agents! For me, the experience validated what I’ve known for over five years now – our agents have the hardest job here, and thankfully we have folks like Andrea providing our customers with great service!”
I totally agree with Deanna’s assessment. It was great to understand what our customers experience when they call in for assistance, and it was also wonderful to walk in the shoes of our Customer Service Agents and better understand what their days are like. I’d gladly do it again.
Posted on: 03-08-2011 at 1:37pm
By Stream Energy Senior Director – Regulatory & General Counsel Darrin Pfannenstiel
A saying that is all too common in Texas is “if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.” The same is applicable for deregulation and the regulatory landscape that governs retail electric providers (REPs) in Texas.
Although energy deregulation in Texas is arguably no longer in its infancy, Austin lawmakers continue to work diligently to review and revise current regulations in attempts to find equilibrium between the consumer and the REP.
New Legislation and Compliance
Stream Energy is incredibly active in the Texas deregulation evolution. Our firm strives to be a major player in educating policymakers on the energy industry and what is deemed fair to both our customers and the firm. If new legislature is proposed that will affect Stream Energy and the way we operate, it is our job to present our point of view and recommend revisions to the proposed legislation that is acceptable for both consumer and the retailer.
Not only does our Regulatory Counsel share the firm’s point of view with lawmakers, but we also act as an enforcement agency within our own walls. Any legislation that is passed by the Texas legislature goes into effect sometimes in fairly short order. Stream Energy and its employees must become familiar with the new laws and revise or enact procedures appropriately to ensure compliance by the effective date of the new regulations.
Most new legislation becomes effective on September 1, with the Public Utility Commission often promulgating regulations to help enact the legislation. As a result, Stream Energy must be in compliance with these new laws or face potentially significant fines and penalties.
Although the Texas regulatory landscape is still evolving in terms of deregulation, every deregulated state in the country has its own set of laws and regulations which also continue to evolve. That poses an entirely new set of challenges with each market that Stream Energy enters. One of the most challenging aspects faced by the Regulatory team is remaining updated on the laws in each state in which we currently operate or plan to operate.
Benefits of Deregulation
In the 2011 Scope of Competition Report, the PUC of Texas reported that prices for consumers are lower now than before deregulation. The demand for customers grows with every new REP that enters the market, and the competition caused by deregulation has shielded consumers from high natural gas prices.
Deregulation has greatly expanded the number of energy providers that consumers may choose from. Before deregulation, there were only four or five utilities servicing customers. Now, consumers may select their energy provider from a field of over 20 REPs. This increase in REPs has created thousands of jobs in Texas and helped keep our state economy as one of the best in the nation during the recent recession.
With the revolving door of the Texas regulatory landscape, future legislation is as certain as death and taxes. As deregulation grows older and out of its infancy, the equilibrium between consumer and REP will be more evident.
Stream Energy is ready for the future—no matter the weather over the Texas sky.
Posted on: 03-02-2011 at 12:17pm
By Stream Energy Director of Market Research Mike Rowley
An option for every electric customer in the states that Stream Energy sells electricity is to self-generate. This is generally done by having a wind generator (windmill) or solar photovoltaic panels installed on the residential premise.
In the State of Texas, the law allows for self-generation. The homeowner who wants to install self-generation must contact his or her transmission/distribution service provider (TDSP) and request a distributed renewable generation (DRG) meter. This meter is actually two directional meters built into a single device. Most average self-generation systems do not supply enough electricity to supply the customer at peak usage times; thus, a connection to the grid is still required so that whatever residential energy usage that is not self-generated can be supplied by the customer’s retail electricity provider (REP). The DRG meter will never show energy leaving the customer’s premise and entering into the grid as long as the customer’s usage is greater than the output of the customer’s self-generation system. It instead will only show the net energy used by the customer from the grid after the self-generated portion is consumed first. The State of Pennsylvania has similar rules.
In times where the self-generating system is generating more energy than the customer’s premise is consuming, there will be an outflow of electricity into the grid. In that case the outflow half of the DRG meter will tally the kWhs that the residential premise is supplying to the grid while reading zero inflow to the customer’s premise. At this writing, the State of Texas does not require the customer’s REP to compensate the customer for this generation supplied to the grid. There are REPs in the State of Texas that will purchase your “green” energy contribution to the grid, if you in return purchase only green energy from them.