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How I became a Customer Relationship Manager

29th November 2019

The post: Customer Relationship Manager, Electric Ireland

The post holder: Alan Cunningham

An interest in the energy sector has guided Alan Cunningham in his career.

Here’s how he became a Customer Relationship Manager

Give a brief outline of your career to date?

Since graduating from university I’ve worked in sales across the energy sector, firstly with BOC Gases, a supplier of gas to the industrial, medical and hospitality sectors and then, for the past 13 years, as a Customer Relationship Manager with ESB Independent Energy who rebranded to Electric Ireland in 2012.

What was your favourite subject at school?

History was and remains one of my favourite pastimes to engage with. Even today, I’m an avid reader of history books and history documentaries with an unhealthy interest in the Medieval time period.

Did you go on to higher education, if so, what did you study and where?

As some might guess based on my last answer, I studied Modern History at the University of Ulster before becoming interested in sales and completing a postgraduate course in Sales and Marketing.

How did you get into your area of work?

After completing my postgraduate degree, I applied for a number of sales jobs and a job within the industry was the one I landed. From there, I became fascinated with the energy sector and the relationships between various elements within it. The entire industry is incredibly interesting and looks likely to remain so, as the world looks for alternative energy sources to combat the current climate breakdown.

Is this what you always wanted to do?

Like many people I suppose, I really did not know what I wanted to do at school or later at university. It was probably the postgraduate course that gave me more focus in terms of a career in sales. I think people can fixate on the question of whether or not this is what they’ve always wanted to do, and not enough on whether this is what they want to do now. The energy industry powers the world and it’s an incredibly exciting sector to be in.

Were there any essential qualifications or experience needed?

I had no specific experience in selling, although the postgraduate course provided my first interest in sales while research and analytical skills, which I learnt at university, helped with elements of my current role as well. I had no experience in the energy sector either, but I think it was more important to have the right attitude and be enthusiastic for what I was doing.

Are there alternative routes into the job?

Some of my colleagues doing the same job are from different backgrounds, such as electrical, production or civil engineering, while others have been with our parent company, the ESB Group for decades and have experienced many different roles within the company.

What are the main personal skills your job requires?

Determination and enthusiasm are important. Contract negotiations can be long and not always straight forward so it’s important to stay focused. The ability to build a rapport with customers as quickly as possible is important too. Customers must feel they can trust you, but trust is earned by doing what you say and going beyond customer expectations. The electricity industry is evolving all the time so there must be a willingness to learn.

What does a typical day entail?

From renewing existing customer contracts, quoting for new business, general account management and dealing with customer queries on billing and payments, it’s fair to say it’s a varied role. I like to be proactive by keeping customers up to date on any legislative and regulatory changes in the electricity market that could have an impact on their business. Our recently launched energy management tool, SME Premium Insights, which enables customers to receive personalised insights to manage their energy usage more effectively, is an excellent resource that we have been working with recently to help bring added value to our customers.

What are the best and most challenging aspects of the job?

One of the most challenging aspects is market volatility and the impact this could have for customers, especially during contract renewal. Although outside our control, this can be mitigated to some extent by different product offerings, such as flexible contracts and renewing contracts during times when markets are more settled.

The most enjoyable aspect is helping customers with unresolved problems they may have and providing value from our SME Premium Insights platform on how to reduce their energy consumption. Speaking to them about the tangible and positive results for their business and what it has allowed them to do is always something I’ve enjoyed.

Why is what you do important?

Although a majority of businesses in Northern Ireland are reporting increases in indicators such as jobs, investments and confidence there are still challenges around post Brexit outcomes, the lack of a local assembly and other concerns. It is more important than ever therefore that Electric Ireland, as a trusted energy supplier, build long term relationships with customers and help them by offering the broadest range of supply products and services designed to solve the diverse and challenging needs of our customers in a complex and dynamic market.

What advice would you give anyone looking to follow a similar career path?

If you are a student and want to work in the electricity sector, try to get a summer placement with an energy company. This will give you a feel for the type of roles available, not only sales, but engineering, marketing, finance, trading and HR. If you are already in sales and want to move into the electricity sector learn as much about the sector as you can. The skills from your existing sales role are definitely transferable to a sales role in the electricity sector, so determination, self-motivation and enthusiasm are very important.

If you weren’t doing this what would you like to do?

I would love to have worked with creative minds to help develop something that would make a difference to people living in extreme poverty throughout the world. Many of the world’s problems could be solved overnight if attention was given to them and I’ve always been interested in that field.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to yourself on your first day?

Try and remember the names of all those you were introduced to on the first day. It might seem daunting but it shows you’re listening and can help break the ice with new colleagues.

Describe your ideal day off

Very simple, a long walk along the North Antrim coast which includes a leisurely lunch in a fantastic local pub.

And finally, what’s the key to any successful job search?

Have a strong CV that contains specific achievements relating to the job you are applying for.

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