Energy companies. We all have to interact with them. It is difficult to find a consumer who likes them. In my daily dealings with friends, colleagues and clients, all too often the name of an energy business will creep in to the conversation – almost always in a negative context.
Why is it that an industry that directly affects all of us and one that is heavily regulated with authorities supposedly protecting the interests of consumers/customers, is so often completely failing to deliver experiences that get even slightly close to meeting our expectations?
There will be a whole variety of responses to that question – and many differing opinions. Rather than answer the question immediately sharing my personal opinion, I would like to share a story with you that brings Customer Experience failure in the industry to light. This story is just one of many that exist. It is a story that has been very kindly shared with me by Beth Bellis. Beth has summed up her experience in an excellently and eloquently written letter to British Gas. If you are sitting comfortably, brace yourself and read on:
Dear British Gas,
I am writing this post in exasperation, frustration, desperation even. I’m hoping that one of your senior leaders may read this and actually HEAR WHAT YOUR CUSTOMERS ARE SAYING. I’m here to hold a mirror to your face and ask you-are you really holding true to your values?!
British Gas as part of your mission statement, you say ‘Everything we do is about proving affordable, hassle free service, to keep British homes and businesses running smoothly’. I beg to differ and here is why…
We were delighted upon moving to our new house in September 2014-a new start our family and a new baby on the way. Understanding that the house was already previously supplied by British Gas, I thought the easiest decision would be to continue using you. How wrong I was. Calling you to give our initial electricity readings and having to provide you with a number of different readings for electricity-I was informed ‘none of these are the correct values, but don’t worry madam, it won’t represent a problem for you going forward’. It did. My first electricity came in at £542 for one month-obviously inaccurate, but a British Gas representative, without even checking any possible discrepancies was quick to argue that the bill was accurate and I was legally obliged to pay it.
What followed in my ongoing correspondence with British Gas representatives is what can only be described as a complete and utter fiasco. Mis-communication, mis-information, demands from British Gas to provide meter read after meter read-each getting the process wrong to generate accurate billing. Each time, despite advising you that I was 8 months pregnant and having to scale a very high 8ft ladder in a dark cupboard to provide you with your required meter reads-I dutifully cooperated in the hope that I would get the correct bill soon.
I wouldn’t have minded, but in the meantime a British Gas employee visited the house to read our meters, but refused because it was against health and safety for him to read them. Hmmm..interesting that it was fine for me-your customer to scale that ladder, but not a valued member of your staff. Eventually, in desperation and due to many failed call backs from British Gas, I escalated the matter to the energy ombudsman to in the interest of finding a quick resolution.
This was in December-3 months after my initial sign up with you. The process was protracted and ended with an apology letter from British Gas and a cheque for £50 in compensation for the numerous phone calls and inconvenience caused. However, in the process you pretty much froze your dealings with me. Response times and calls had always been poor anyway, but now communications became even more difficult with longer wait times. You didn’t get back to me in due time to confirm whether I could move to another provider, despite having an ongoing bill which was yet to be resolved through correct readings.
I felt that I was stuck with a provider who I no longer wanted to be with, on a standard tariff, which was higher than most. You were tardy in responding to me to confirm whether, whilst stuck with you, I could be transferred onto a cheaper tariff and when you did, it seems a cheaper tariff did not exist. The rates for they other packages you had were the same as the standard tariffs available-exactly the same rates!
Finally it transpired that the electricity meter type I had in the property was a commercial meter, not residential, which accounted for the confusion and the mis-billing, but in order to transfer to a new provider I was at the mercy of British Gas to register the meter type as ‘residential’ on the eco-system so that the new supplier would recognise the property. Surely just a tick box exercise online, but it still took you up to 2 weeks!
During this process, I also received a number of aggressive payment chasing calls. Despite my numerous attempts to explain to each different representative that the meter reads were yet to be resolved, I was told on many occasion that late payment of a bill may result in a fine. One representative even helpfully informed me that if I paid half the bill upfront then I wouldn’t get this constant harassment. Pay half of what?! You haven’t finalised the bill!!!
British Gas representatives have treated me extremely poorly and it seems that the higher up the resolution ladder I climb, the dirtier the treatment. I’m not sure what training your staff have had but often I have been made to deal with incredibly curt representatives who feel the need to inaccurately assume that I am in the wrong and explain what ‘I’ need to do to resolve the situation…like I’m an annoying fly that needs to be swatted! Let’s compare and contrast this against my new energy provider, who upon recently providing an inaccurate bill (because let’s face it we can all make mistakes), responded to say ‘oh our apologies madam-I can see where the fault has been made, we will get this corrected for you within the next week-oh also would you like me to call you back to discuss the others aspects of your account, because I can see that you have been on the line for some time.’ Needless to say, I like and will stay with my new energy provider.
The final straw has now come, having received a letter from ‘Moorcroft Debt Recovery’ for an outstanding British Gas balance pulled from thin air! Where is my final bill British Gas? Why has this been referred to an aggressive Debt Recovery service when I haven’t even received my final bill? Upon calling you to address this, you have again apologised – however, this has not stopped you sending me an administration fee of £18 for the privilege in my latest final bill. And then there’s the credit rating score-despite finalising and making full payment of my bill (minus the incorrect administration fee I may add) over 2 weeks ago, I notice that my online credit rating score is negatively affected by an unpaid ‘British Gas’ bill. Do I really need to go through the ombudsman again?!!!
British Gas, as a customer, I feel completely mis-treated by you and going online to look at other blogs on your operations I see that many, many other customers feel the same. If you invested half of your time on customer retention through customer service as you did on aggressively and unfairly chasing for bills and keeping people on tariffs against their will, then perhaps your customer base would stop leaving you in search of more customer centric, cheaper providers. British Gas-I am astonished by the hubris and arrogance by which you operate. This ‘energy giant’ can only go one way. Perhaps, in the passing years, your customer base will diminish to such an extent that you will no longer be trading. Perhaps in years to come, we will remember you (hopefully fondly) as that hapless energy company that failed to move with the times. Poor old British Gas we’ll say-they just didn’t know what they were doing did they!
I have now-thankfully transferred provider and my dealings with my new provider have been, in contrast, punctual, hassle free-affordable even. British Gas-stand up and take note, get with the times-there many more forward thinking companies out there than you who operate the way companies should do and retain customers through focusing on quality customer service.
British Gas- ‘Looking after your world’. Really?
A very dissatisfied previous customer
Let me ask you another question. Does Beth’s experience surprise you? It does not surprise me. Whilst I personally have not had experiences that are quite as bad as this, my memories of my dealings with energy providers have either been negative or left me with no memorable experience at all!! So why is it that this is not a lone incident? Why is it that so many consumers would be able to empathise with Beth’s plight?
When businesses brand themselves – when they tell the world what they stand for, they must mean it. British Gas claim to be ‘looking after your world’ – a statement not lost on Beth. As her experience shows, the reality could not be further from the truth. However large their business is, there is no excuse for repeated failure. In my opinion, part of the problem are the regulators themselves. Do they really understand the concept of Customer Experience (something I have written about in the past)? I personally believe that the energy industry is relying too much on waiting for the regulators to tell them what to do…… but what if the regulator does not know what to do?
Waiting for regulators to tell you to do what is right, is also remarkably REACTIVE – if energy companies really did want to look after our world, they would be PROACTIVELY improving the experience for their customers – showing the regulator what they are doing, BEFORE the regulator tells them to do it. Now that would be something!
It is important not to taint the whole industry though. The fact the new energy providers have come in to the market is a fantastic thing. Hopefully they will disrupt the behaviours of the bigger, more traditional players whilst companies like SSE are already putting a significant focus on improving the Customer Experience. Additionally, the huge success of Northern Gas Networks in demonstrating the true power of Customer Experience both with their customers and employees is incredibly positive for the industry as a whole.
As always, I would be very interested to know about your experiences with the energy industry and what you think is going on – both in the UK and in other parts of the world. I will soon be sharing another exhibit with you – one that is even more extreme than this!! If you have ever tried to close the account of a relative who has sadly passed away, you will be able to empathise – exhbit 2 on NPower will be coming soon!