A bit like the reactions required to engineer consumer trust. Kind of.

By Julian Roberts 

Having been to a dozen or so meetings, debates and roundtable discussions on Green Deal over the last six months, it’s clear there’s a recurring theme: lack of consumer trust.

Get parachuted into a Green Deal conference with no briefing on what it’s about, miss the context setting, experience the combination of tension in the air and those big searching questions, and you could easily be forgiven for thinking it’s a discussion about the discovery of the Higgs boson.

Stick around and you’d realise it was a discussion on the discovery of trust. It would be easy to say that gaining trust is not rocket science – but in this case the more topical cliché would be particle physics.

We know for sure that this thing called ‘trust’ exists and is the thing that will hold the Green Deal together, but up to now we have been unable to find it.

Libor rates, MPs expenses, phone hacking, executive bonuses, banking and price-fixing are the most high profile examples of where trust evaporated overnight.

Much great work has been done to win over consumer trust when it comes to energy efficiency. Nonetheless some nagging doubts persist.

All trust issues come down to one thing: the gap between what we promise and what we deliver.

With green products and services, the gaps come about as the result of a relatively young and burgeoning green economy. We’ve been learning, trialling technologies, feeling our way. But we know much more now. It’s a time for reassurance. It’s time to close the trust gap, and businesses looking to enter into the Green Deal can do it.

We went looking for ‘the trust gap’ in Energy Saving Trust’s very own sort of Hadron Collider and this is what we found:

1.      Motive – start and finish with a sound one

Too many approaches to customers are based on a single product and overly simplistic fuel bill saving claims. A better position is to help householders manage their fuel bills for the long-term. We can show customers how one energy saving product is one part of a journey to becoming a low energy, low bills household. We can also show what else they can do – from basic changes in their energy-using behaviour to installing other, complementary measures in the future. This help builds an on-going relationship with the customer and with great advice helps ensure that they will make savings.

2.      Embrace uncertainty………..talk to people

There is still uncertainty out there about a lot of products. But rather get into black and white arguments which can come across as denial, take the time and care to talk through concerns. An early example of this is low-energy light bulbs. Some early and cheaper versions of low-energy light bulbs (which didn’t produce great light and did take a while to get bright) were kicking around in the market place for some time. Advocates rightly defended low-energy light bulbs but this was in conflict to some people’s experiences [of the lesser light bulbs]. Never a good tactic. Of course the newer and high quality ones are fantastic, but positive perceptions of low-energy light bulbs became contaminated by the older product. This confusion and uncertainty needed to be embraced, discussed and explained.

3.      Hyper-local

If big above-the-line advertising campaigns didn’t work then big companies wouldn’t do them. But when it comes to energy efficiency, don’t forget the ‘hyper-local’. Third-party advocacy can play the lead role here and people in communities share knowledge and experiences, instilling confidence in their peers. Engaging local newsletters and council magazines is a really effective way to build trust in communities.

4.      Targeting, targeting…..targeting

How many times have you received junk mail, had a knock on the door or been cold called by someone selling you something that is not right for you. You’ll win the trust of consumers if you offer them something that’s right for their circumstance. There’s lots of insight and data available to make sure you target affectively. There’s lots of evidence to show that we are more likely to undertake work on our homes to make them more energy efficient at key ‘trigger points’ in our life: moving house or starting a family for example. Engage customers is the right way at the right time and they’re more likely to have faith that you know what you’re doing.

5.      Set expectations

We undertook some pilots which gave us some good insight on the Green Deal. One of the key things we learnt is the importance of setting expectations. We came across instances where people were quoted to have renewable kit installed but when the work started it transpired that extra plumbing was required. Other cases found that people really wanted a solar panel and were told they could have one. When it turned out that their property was unsuitable they were so disappointed and decided not to take up any of the measures of offer. Make sure customers get quoted for all the expected work and make sure you’re upfront with what they can and cannot have installed.

6.      Right property, right product

If there’s one thing we’ve learnt from our field trials it’s the importance of installing the right product in the right property. Get that wrong and your great product can get a bad reputation, not because it’s a bad product but because it’s in the wrong set of circumstances.

7.      Golden Rule

You’ve got a great product, you’ve installed it in the right way in the right property but you didn’t give your customer great advice. You can’t have a low-carbon house without a low-carbon citizen. The insulation’s gone in and the householder is enjoying the extra warmth so much so that they crank up the heating.Under the Green Deal the ‘Golden Rule’ is that the amount of money paid back by the household must be less than the savings they make from energy saving. Without the right customer advice, consumers might not adopt the right behaviours which can contribute to the ‘Golden Rule’ failing.

8.      Certification’s key

If you’re going to be a Green Deal installer then you need to be certified. I think we’re all backing this idea.

Find out where to go for certification.

9.      Work with others

Local authorities, housing associations and estate agents know the local area better than anyone. They already have a relationship with local people. Rather than go in cold, why not explore working with others in order to reach your audiences.

10.  Reputation arrives on foot and leaves on a [race] horse

We do, on average, about two regional radio interviews a week about stories of residents concerned that they might be being mis-sold green products and services. It’s really important to make sure that you get everything right before you go to market. Because once you become the centre of a media story you will find it hard to win long-term trust thereafter. Start by making sure you have great products, are targeting in the right way, giving the right advice. Build a trust with the hyper-local media first and then watch your reputation grow. It’s about SHOW and not TELL.

We found the Higgs Boson.

We landed on Mars.

Next to this fare, winning the trust of consumers looks achievable. And if we mind the gap, we’ll do just that.