Utilities take another customer service bullet

It’s been another dire week for utility companies again after the recent publication of a Which? report outlining call waiting times for customer service versus sales lines.

Which best buy

The report itself if you want to read it, can be found here but I’ll give you the highlights.

384 calls in total were made to 16 energy companies, both to their sales and customer service numbers. Call were made at set times during the day and the average call length calculated across all calls to each provider.

The times varied, both across all 16 providers and between the sales and customer service numbers.

The best performance came from Ebico, the UK’s only not for profit energy provider (I’m switching after I finish this blog..) Average call waiting time to their customer service line was 30 seconds versus 47 seconds to get through to sales.

EBICOHowever Scottish Power got their own special recognition for a particularly spectacular performance. Calls to their customer service line averaged a whopping 30 minutes versus 49 seconds for sales. Bearing in mind too that if 30 minutes was the average what must the longest have been?

Now there a couple of points here to pick out here which I’m sure you’re already onto.

Firstly, that’s horrific service. Not just a bit poor, or slightly painful. Horrific. Assuming they’re measuring average waiting times as part of their fundamental customer experience metrics then they’re clearly doing little or nothing to address anything of the root cause or manage customer expectations to appease them. To add insult to injury, Scottish Power is also under pending threat from Ofgem to reduce average waiting times to 2 minutes by January (better hurry up..). If they fail, they’ll be unable to sell new tariffs (ouch) which you would think would focus them on their ‘to do ‘ list with an increased sense of urgency.

Scottish Power reportedly blamed – yes you guessed it, IT and a new system. Oh and a shortage of staff, neither of which are impossible to manage. So did the IT system not also impact sales then??


This is the fourth time Which? have conducted this test and overall the results haven’t got much better. Interestingly, npower have improved, albeit from such a low point it would have been hard to get much worse.

Secondly and the other real rub here is the difference between customer services and sales which is the real story and outlines the real priority and drivers of the company.

Clearly Scottish Power can answer the phone quickly when they want new customers, but not for existing customers.

Such an overbearing focus on new customer is short-termism at it’s best and a sure fire way to haemorrhage customers out of the back door, which actually for all I know might currently be the case.

Whatever the real reason, practices like these have a significantly negative effect on the bottom line, not to mention the customer experience and levels of customer retention.

As a final point, with this level of service, you’d think that customers would be switching in their droves to find both a better service and a better deal. Apparently not, according to Consumer Focus. In January 2013, they posted that;

“tracking surveys for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and energy regulator, Ofgem, showed that switching rates are down by a quarter from four years ago. In 2008, 20 per cent of consumers reported switching energy firm, compared to 15 per cent in 2011/12 according to DECC’s figures. According to Ofgem’s figures 13 per cent of gas customers and 14 per cent of electricity customers switched. Our research also shows the current switching rate is just under 15 per cent.”

There’s definitely room for improvement in customer experience from the industry as a whole, but companies like Ebico prove it can be done. Time for a much needed change I think.


no-image really do make you cry..

I’m not a fan of just blogging about companies that get things wrong about customer experience.

To be honest, it’s too easy a target (given how many examples there are) and I know how difficult it is to create seamless and consistent experiences. Having said that, this story is a good example, for lots of reasons, but especially because it highlights the need to be consistent with both customer experience, business processes and social media presence.

Responding to a tweet in 20 seconds can create a good impression which can be quickly destroyed if you don’t do what you say you’re going to do.

Let me begin..

Recently, my partner bought some items from the online clothing retailer The website user experience was good, the items we’re chosen and bought and then delivered fairly quickly.

Boo hoo logoAs with buying clothes online, especially for fickle teenage girls, a number of the items needed to be returned which we duly did and the free returns process was relatively straight forward. The credit terms from memory was something like 2 weeks from boo hoo confirming receipt of the goods back which they did several days later by email. All good so far which is where the fun and games started.

Four weeks later we were still waiting for the credit so we decided to chase them to see where the credit was up to.

Trying to find a telephone number on the website was the first frustration. One didn’t exist that we could find which, arguably is the point of being an online retailer.

The customer service tab however did have lots of advice on return, order tracking, general queries section etc but still no phone number. We did however, find an email address so we fired off a quick note asking for an update.

Multi channel

The almost instant reply that came back said that ‘the Customer Service team are currently experiencing high volumes of enquiries and so are unable to respond at this time.’

No expectation management as to when they might be able to help, just that they were busy.

Channel hoping is a customer tactic that is increasingly utilised to get a response but one that companies find hard to manage well, so we deliberately switched from email to twitter to see if we could progress our issue. We quickly found their twitter customer service account and after a quick (sarcastic) tweet to provoke a response, we got a tweet back with an invite to send a direct message with our query within about 20 seconds. Wow – what a fantastically quick response and a result so we thought, and so we sent the message with our order details.

Quite quickly we were assured that the credit would be processed and the money would be refunded within a week. Perfect.

Two weeks later, the credit was still outstanding, so once again we took to twitter. We passed all the order details yet again, and again we were assured that the credit would be refunded. I tried to articulate that we’d been here before and had had all the same assurances previously and so I questioned given that this had been promised before, what would be different this time. No real additional assurance was given to me only that the credit would be actioned.  Promises

However, true to their word, albeit second time round the credit arrived about a week later.

So what can we observe from this?

Well firstly, as a customer I still want to talk to someone when I have a problem – online retailer or not. The only get out here to not having phone agents to talk to customers is for businesses to have bomb proof process behind the scenes that enable right first time delivery on customer needs.

Secondly, if you say you’re going to do something, then you have to do it. You could say I’m stating the obvious with this one, but this is one of the holy ten commandments of customer experience in my book.

Third, it’s no good being super fast and responsive on social media, raising customer expectations if you can’t deliver behind the scenes. It’s incongruent and does nothing for the customer experience, in fact it just erodes it.

Consistency across multiple channels is an area where many businesses are struggling. However this multi channel approach to contact is being driven harder and faster by customers from both the home and mobile with the need for immediate and responsive service and with little tolerance for those that can’t deliver quickly and seamlessly to meet customers needs.

This is definitely a theme that will remain the focus into 2015 for both businesses and customers so I’m sure we won’t hear that last of challenges like this.