Leave a comment

RIIO-2. What does “strengthening the consumer voice” really mean?

What does strengthening the consumer voice mean, and do you know the best way to do this? Are you reaching the end user?


RIIO-T1 and RIIO-GD1 price controls are due to end in March 2021 with RIIO-ED1 ending in March 2023. Ofgem recently launched the framework review for RIIO-2 which marks the beginning of the consultation process for setting price controls for the network companies running the gas and electricity transmission and distribution networks in the UK.

The publication of the open letter[1] by Ofgem sets out the context for the development of the new price controls and seeks views from stakeholders on:

  • the overarching objectives for RIIO-2
  • the key principles that should be considered
  • Ofgems approach to stakeholder engagement including timetables

The central principle to the framework review is ‘Giving consumers a stronger voice in setting outputs, shaping and assessing business plans.’ In this article we will explore what strengthening the consumer voice really means and how this can be achieved throughout the business planning process.

Consumer panel vs. constructive engagement – what is the end result?

With clear direction from Ofgem that consumer engagement needs to be core to RIIO-2, organisations now need to scope out the methods, tools and solutions to engage with customers and stakeholders.

The water sector adapted through business planning periods PR14 and PR19 to ensure they captured customer and stakeholder views through the use of customer forums. The aviation sector is well known for creating engagement channels through constructive engagement. Both are well established routes and there is shared learning that can be applied.

Customer forums and constructive engagement frameworks reach segments of customer representatives and stakeholders, but neither approach captures the views of the end user. This is where you need to work with an independent expert.


Engagement - Panels or framework


Explain has worked within the utilities sector for two decades, working in contracted partnerships with several of the UK’s biggest and most respected suppliers and distributors. These relationships have allowed Explain to develop an in-depth understanding of the importance of customer and stakeholder engagement, ensuring we engage with the end user to deliver insights that support and are aligned to business planning.

 Why Explain:

  1. Independent: You can be confident that our advice will be impartial, open and focused on delivering robust insight to support business planning throughout RIIO 2
  2. Bespoke solutions: Offering a range of research methodologies from the traditional to the innovative, always focussing on the best approach to deliver robust insights ensuring we engage with the end user
  3. Research that unlocks insight: Delivering a range of research solutions through a mix of methodologies to deliver insights including: business planning strategic reviews, stakeholder research, customer research, vulnerable customer research, brand awareness and perceptions and public consultation.

Our team at Explain Market Research are experts at putting in place research programmes identify and support business planning priorities within the utilities sector.

 Contact us today to find out how we could support you and get in touch with our team to understand more about the solutions we can provide.



[1] https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/system/files/docs/2017/07/open_letter_on_the_riio2_framework_12_july_final_version.pdf

Leave a comment

Reversing the direction of care within the health sector

To successfully reverse the direction of care, you need to first understand how patients are accessing services. Are you doing enough?

It is well known that the NHS is feeling the strain and is under pressure to prioritise and allocate care to patients when they need it the most. With reports over the Christmas period of trusts at over 99% capacity,[1] it is vital that NHS organisations understand how patients are using services, and more importantly still, recognise when the direction of care needs to be reversed.

As an example, patients often see primary care within the NHS as the first port of call and it is often the first point of contact for patients. Approximately 90% of patient interaction is with primary care and for this reason it’s commonly referred to as the ‘Front Door’ to the NHS. Now imagine if those patients first took the steps to visit their pharmacist, self care at home, or – right at the start of the cycle – have a healthier lifestyle.

reversing direction of care

Reversing the direction of care will mean that care is available at a time when patients need to access it the most. Gaining insights into patient behaviour as to how they are accessing services will drive efficiencies and ensure the best return on investment for your organisation without compromising service.

What can you do?

 Using our experience in delivering complex research projects for the NHS, in this blog we are sharing our tried and tested approach to deliver actionable insights to shape necessary changes in reversing the direction of care.

  1. Review current service access – Do you know if the public are over using a particular service due to insufficient access to other services? Are there any trends to highlight how services are being accessed? Do you even know what the public want from primary care – seven day GP appointments, extended hours surgeries, telephone appointments? The first step in shaping services is to consult and ask the public what their needs are.
  2. Education – In our experience there is confusion on what services should be accessed when, from where, and by whom. It’s essential to see the service structure through patients’ eyes and understand how to communicate and educate on current services. Understanding the problem before looking at the solution will lead to sustained results.
  3. Develop social marketing – Developing and co-creating social marketing campaigns with the public will lead to and encourage positive behavioural change. Areas of focus should be self care, healthy living and creating educational campaign materials to outline steps to be taken when accessing services.
  4. Consult with staff – Ask those that know. Tap into the expertise of your primary care staff at grass roots level and deep dive to understand their experiences and solutions to support you to achieve your vision.

Why Explain Market Research; and how we will deliver actionable insights.  

The decision to meaningfully uncover actionable insights into how patients are accessing care will be one of the most valuable consultation activities you will undertake. For that reason, you should use an independent expert.

Having worked with the health sector nationally for over a decade on a range of research projects, Explain Market Research has developed a unique and relevant skill set aligned to research and engagement within both the NHS and private health sector; we are providing insights which are underpinning changes to models of care nationally.

Examples of our work include:

Follow the links above to read our case studies in full.

Why Explain:

  1. Independent: You can be confident that our advice will be impartial, open and focused and will deliver a return on investment
  2. Bespoke solutions: Offering a range of research methodologies from the traditional to the innovative, always focussing on the best approach to deliver actionable insights for your organisation
  3. Experts in consultation: With a longstanding track record of delivering pre-consultation and consultation research into changes of care within the NHS, we are sector experts
  4. Research that unlocks insight: Delivering a range of research solutions including: public consultation, stakeholder research, brand awareness and perceptions, customer and employee research.

 Contact us today to find out how we could support you and get in touch with our team to understand more about the solutions we provide.




[1] http://www.acutemedicine.org.uk/news/leading-doctor-fears-for-hospitals-as-new-year-dawns/

Leave a comment

NHS Staff Survey 2017 is now underway; will you really value the insights? You should.

Is your workforce in the 74% of NHS staff that feel enthusiastic about their job? Do you know what your workforce really think and how they feel? Have you independently asked?

The NHS Staff Survey 2017 is now underway. As a leader of your organisation, you need to understand how to maximise the opportunity to engage with staff to uncover meaningful and actionable insights.

The 2016 survey saw a 40% increase in participation from staff across all organisations. In context, the survey included views from approximately a third of the NHS workforce and was the biggest response achieved in the survey’s 14 year history. This illustrates and confirms that NHS employees want to be given the opportunity to share their insights on a wide range of areas, including how to improve patient service and their own job satisfaction.

The return on investment for your organisation from engaging with staff will be measurable. Your teams will be more productive, you are less likely to deal with staff complaints, you will see increased collaboration and teams working together, staff retention will increase and lower rates of sickness and absence will be recorded.

Why Explain Market Research; and why should engagement be independent?

The decision to meaningfully uncover actionable insights in your organisations through staff engagement will be one of the most valuable marketing and human resource (HR) activities you will undertake. For that reason, you should use an independent expert.

The findings and results that we will uncover will be unbiased and independent; we will be able to uncover and probe insights that are unlikely to be disclosed to your senior or internal HR teams.

Having worked with NHS organisations for over a decade on projects including complex service change consultations, public health behavioural change projects, and research to understand behaviours linked to accessing services and new care models, Explain Market Research has developed a unique and relevant skill set pertaining to research and engagement within the health sector.

Using a range of research methodologies and engagement approaches we will help you understand how to engage, uncover insights, benchmark measure and improve results in your organisations.

Delivering Meaningful Insights V2How we deliver meaningful insights:

  1. Interpret your results and identify the ‘hot spots’ through a detailed review of the survey data
  2. Identify those teams or departments that are most dissatisfied and understand what they are dissatisfied with
  3. Undertake qualitative research with those teams or individuals and get ‘under the skin’; and then
  4. Co-create with respondents to identify solutions and provide strategic recommendations on actions for improvement
  5. We can continue to track engagement and work with you to deliver actions.

Our team at Explain Market Research are experts at putting in place research programmes to deliver for clients.

 Contact us today to find out how we could support you and get in touch with our team to understand more about the solutions we can provide.

Leave a comment

As a financial institution are you doing enough to engage with vulnerable customers?

dotmailer image

Vulnerable customer and ‘hard to reach’ research is a requirement that more and more insight and market research managers need to address as part of their roles. Not only are regulators looking for organisations to demonstrate that they are inclusive, but there is huge value in businesses being more effective in their engagement with those who are in debt or utilising services inefficiently. It is notable that ‘Supporting the vulnerable customer’ is a key heading in the Building Societies Annual Conference in May next year. Understanding how to engage with vulnerable customers should be central to your insights strategy. 

Vulnerable customers are often identified as those with long or short term illness, those living with disabilities or in poverty, and also customers who are elderly. More recently the definition of vulnerable customer has extended to hard to reach customers and seldom heard groups. As a financial institution you need to be clear on how to engage with vulnerable and hard to reach customers to ensure your research is representative.

Hard to reach groups will differ depending on the organisation and the products and services which are offered, but can include:

         Non-English speakers

         Those who are in severe debt

         Those who have suffered a mental illness or struggle socially

         Individuals who have a drug or alcohol addiction

         Younger people who are not in education or employment

         Elderly who live alone and don’t have family or friend

There are many reasons why it is important for you to be able to reach out to audiences that can be more difficult to engage with. This can be from a socially responsible point of view, or to reduce inefficiencies. However, as the term suggests – ‘hard to reach’ is exactly that, so having the right approach is vital.

So how can your organisation grow relationships with those where there are perhaps more barriers in place that will allow them to do this?

Due to the complexity and diversity of the hard to reach customer, a one size fits all approach will not work in research. Careful thought and consideration as to how these groups can be engaged with is crucial. Below are just three important factors which need to be deliberated when putting in place research and engagement with hard to reach and vulnerable groups:


For example, there is little point in using technical jargon or business speak when engaging with a group of 16 year olds. This may seem obvious; however it is surprising how difficult it is to get a specific point across without making use of industry specific terms. This is very common in the healthcare sector for instance.


Tone is different to language, as it goes beyond the actual words used in any communications, whether a discussion guide, questionnaire, online survey or promotional material used to engage for the research. Tone should be adopted for the audience. Having a moderator in place that is able to adapt to the audience is vital. For questionnaires, more visuals can be used. There are lots of creative ways in which you can communicate with your respondents, to make them feel at ease and more willing to open up and participate.

Methodology and selection

Usually a methodology is largely selected on the type of insight that is required. Methods such as attending pre-arranged groups or community sessions are an extremely useful way to engage with the hard to reach. Not only are you going to them, they are also in their own environment so will naturally feel more comfortable and more willing to participate. Online communities which already have a specific audience type are a great way to engage with groups. Explain specialise in online communities and can design the community to be representative of all customers, including segmenting by certain profile types; for example, an online community made up of people who have a disability, or who care for those who do. It is an excellent way to carry out a range of qualitative or quantitative research.

Our team at Explain Market Research are experts at putting in place research programmes with vulnerable customers and those who are hard to reach.

Contact us today to find out more, and download our accompanying infographic resource below.

vulnerable customer infographic .pdf


Leave a comment

Explain Market Research – Finalists in the Market Research Society (MRS) Operations Awards 2017

Explain Market Research has been announced as a finalist in the MRS Operations Awards 2017. The MRS is the world’s leading research association and their annual Operations Awards will take place this year on 14 September 2017 in London. We have been recognised for our outstanding work and are shortlisted as one of three finalists in the field of Best Data Collection (Telephone).

Based in Newcastle upon Tyne, Explain has provided full-service market research solutions to a range of organisations for over two decades, with specialist knowledge and expertise in the utilities, healthcare, social housing and the financial services sectors. Delivering innovative insights is at the forefront of our culture and this has been recognised by the MRS.

Our Managing Director, Kim Davis, commented, “As a proud company partner of the MRS, we are delighted to have been shortlisted as finalists for this prestigious award. The Explain research centre has a team of 45 dedicated telephone researchers; they deliver annually against strategic KPIs, and significantly contribute to the success of the business. In 2016-2017, our telephone researchers delivered productivity scores averaging 96%, quality scores averaging 95%, and completed approximately 131,500 interviews. I’m incredibly proud of our team and the recognition of finalist is testament to all their continued hard work and dedication.”

The MRS, who are dedicated to the support, promotion and enrichment of the research and business world, will announce the winners of eight awards categories and will celebrate the best of the UK’s research agencies in a night of recognition and awards.

Kim went on to add, “We pride ourselves on building and developing longstanding and trusted public, private and the third sector client partnerships through the consistent delivery of powerful and actionable consumer insights. We recognise the need to invest in our team, in technology and in identifying how to continue to improve, always striving for innovation aligned to delivery for our clients. Being part of the awards on 14 September will be a celebration of all the work we undertake to deliver for clients.”

Clients provided us with testimonials to support our award entry, further illustrating Explain’s commitment to deliver for clients, including the following:

“I’ve worked with the team at Explain for over 6 years, while employed in various roles and organisations. Explain have been a critical part of my success to improve customer experience during this time. 

I’ve heard people say anyone can make an outbound call/do a survey, the difference for me with Explain is their approach. They understand my needs and business, which has created a partnership working relationship rather than client/supplier. The opportunity to meet the full team including the fantastic telephone researchers creates a real connection and lets me know Explain care about my customers too.”

Adam Stewart, Executive of Customer Services, Barratt Developments plc

Our business has consistently seen growth year on year, providing development and opportunity for our dynamic team. It is this team of specialists across a range of disciplines within marketing and research who enable Explain to deliver market research projects to extremely high standards – from design all the way through to insights and into actions.

With an exceptionally strong team of moderators, researchers, analysts and marketing specialists delivering a mix of qualitative (in depth conversation based research) and quantitative (survey based statistical research) methods, Explain can provide you and your organisation with the powerful and reliable insight that you need to inform your business, customer and marketing strategies.

We employ a wide range of methodologies, from the traditional to the innovative, including:

Our team at Explain Market Research are experts at putting research programmes in place to deliver for clients.

Contact us today to find out how we could support you, and click through below to take a more detailed look at some of the solutions we offer.





Leave a comment

Staying ahead of the curve – insights unlock value in the new Water Retail Market

The new water retail market is open for business; on the 1 April this year it became possible for businesses in England to choose which company they would like to supply their retail water services.

The move had been in the pipeline since 2011, when the government set plans for a new competitive market outlined in the Water for Life White Paper. With a focus on improving customer service, promoting protection of the environment and increasing competition in the industry, it is one of the most significant changes the industry has faced, bringing with it a range of new challenges.

The open retail water market will work much in the same way as other utility services, with wider utility markets now also being able to offer water services.  It is believed this will deliver around £200 million of overall benefit to customers and the UK economy by separating out retail services from wholesale activities.

What does this mean?

In simple terms it means that for an additional 1.2 million eligible businesses and non household customers they now have a choice – the customers are in the driving seat.

Customers can decide who they would like to provide their water, their wastewater services, or both. They can change at any time, for any reason, without penalty, and all this can happen in less than a month.

For licensed water retailers it means they are now competing against each other and have the freedom to tailor services and packages for customers to contend in the open market. The market will provide growth opportunities for existing regional water companies, and brand new companies. Initial investment will be required to set up independent retail businesses, ensuring fair competition, and once established driving a return on investment will be a key focus.

Insights will unlock value

The open retail market is a new market; with that comes limited transactional history or operational trading knowledge. There are no clear market leaders and the market is open to competition.

The good news is willingly engaging with and understanding customers’ and stakeholders’ needs and concerns could be a key differentiator in a new competitive market and will provide those forward thinking water retail companies with a competitive edge.

Staying ahead of the curve

The ability to benchmark, track and evaluate service through customer engagement will deliver a significant return on investment for water retailers.

For over two decades, our team at Explain Market Research have been innovating, developing and delivering research programmes in the utility sector, our main objective always being to deliver actionable insights for our clients. Read our case studies for some great examples of our work in the sector.

We have developed innovative methodologies to deliver insights in a competitive market. We specialise in engaging with customers including embedding behavioural research, trust and confidence, and the engagement of vulnerable and hard to reach customers into our utility sector research projects.

Research and engagement will enable water retail businesses to get closer to their customers to identify the issues they are experiencing at any given time and co-creating to find solutions that improve their experience.

Research will also be important to understand the ideal balance between price and service to enable retailers to shape their service offering. Measuring and tracking customer experience as well as customer advocacy will allow retailers to measure performance as well as areas for service improvement, enabling continuous improvement over time and high levels of customer retention for getting it right.

Contact us at Explain Market Research today to find out more about the solutions we offer. Take a look at our accompanying infographic below.

Water Retail Market Infographic V3


Leave a comment

Explain Market Research launches new research solution to deliver innovation

Originally developed in 2010, Explain’s innovative online community platform has undergone a substantial upgrade to better meet the needs of clients and end users.

Organisations in a range of sectors, including utilities, healthcare and manufacturing, have chosen our platform as it provides a unique and extremely cost-effective method of research and engagement to suit any budget.

An online community in the simplest form is a form of social and digital engagement, sometimes referred to as an online panel; they offer a bespoke, members-only digital space in which to directly engage ‘in the moment’ with a desired audience – for example, customers, stakeholders, or internal staff. Communities are currently being used to monitor perceptions of customer service, develop new products, and engage with vulnerable and ‘hard to reach’ consumer groups.

Along with the build of each community, Explain provide an ongoing management and moderation service which sees users encouraged to actively participate in conversation, providing a qualitative two way conversation. Views and opinions are gathered through discussion threads, polls and online surveys, with fresh and relevant content uploaded frequently to ensure high levels of engagement, providing a 360 degree view from customers.

Our online communities range in scale and scope, with each community individually designed to deliver the needs of clients. We currently host and manage online communities ranging from bespoke projects with 50 members, running for a limited time to deliver immediate insights, to long term strategic models with thousands of members, that will run over a number of years as an engagement tool.

The recently launched Version 3 of the platform offers enhanced design and media capabilities, along with greater usability to improve user experience for members.

Kim Davis, Explain Market Research’s Managing Director commented “Our newest release has stimulated interest from those who see research as an ongoing investment in product and service refinement. Any industry that is serious about stakeholder engagement should consider an online community, as an extremely cost-effective way to carry out ongoing research.  It breaks down barriers such as location, accessibility and timing. We are seeing a significant shift towards this type of research, particularly in regulatory environments, to demonstrate consistent engagement, and also in manufacturing for product innovation and development.”

Based in Newcastle upon Tyne, Explain has provided full-service market research solutions to a range of organisations for over two decades, with specialist knowledge and expertise in the utilities, healthcare and financial services sectors. Delivering innovative insights is at the forefront of our culture. Our online communities are part of a wider suite of innovative solutions to research and engagement, which also includes mobile app surveys, collecting ‘in the moment’ data and insights.

With a shift towards ongoing and digital research, to demonstrate consistent engagement, we continue to work with clients to find solutions to their needs, and are seeing a significant increase in the uptake of online communities as a research tool.

Take a look at our infographic below and get in touch to understand how your organisation will benefit from an online community.

communities infographic