Giles Hankinson: Time to change

10 November 2017

This is the first of several discussions, looking at the behaviour of energy companies within the Business to Business sector.

It is 2018 and technology has transformed many of our day-to-day practices. It has changed the way in which we lead our lives, disrupting our habits and routines, often (but not always) for the better. The purpose of these new technologies has been to make the lives of consumers easier and less stressful.

Take for example, ordering your everyday groceries. You no longer need to go to the supermarket instead you can order them online and have them delivered directly to your door. But technology hasn't stopped there. If you now own an Amazon "Alexa" or the like, you don't even need to go online. All you do is instruct Alexa to buy the shopping for you and job done! Who would've thought, you could do an entire food shop, simply by talking to a robot?

Putting aside the issue of technological benefits, the principle remains, these innovations were made with the customer in mind. To create simplicity, efficiency and satisfaction in our hectic lives. Generally, customer satisfaction is what drives business: not the other way round. Whilst many companies seem to adopt the "customer first" strategy, many do not execute it in practice. Certainly, in energy brokering we see the scale of this first-hand. Far too frequently, and often across an entire organisation, there is little or no focus placed on customer satisfaction - unless of course it is for sales. In which case the management have thrown more than enough resources to "sign you up" there and then, with little thought as to keeping you happy beyond the point of sale.

As such, I think I speak for most, when I describe how I feel my stress levels increase at the thought of contacting my organisation's utility provider for a non-sales issue. Be it a provider for Water, Gas or Electricity. You will typically experience long wait times, a never-ending list of options to choose from, a terrible choice of "hold" music and hostile phone operators who give you little or no support - often whilst charging you for the privilege of being on the phone.
Utility Aid took a closer look at this and found that only one of the "Big Six" answered business calls in under 30 seconds, whilst others left customers hanging on the line for well over three minutes. This poor approach to customer service doesn't stop there. When you do eventually get to speak to someone, they often aren't able to address the issue satisfactorily, which means you need to make even more calls in the future.

Investment in post-sale customer contact is almost non-existent. True, some suppliers have made token gestures introducing so-called "new technologies" or as they call them "client portals" whereby a customer logs-on to a basic account screen, in the hope of finding the information they are looking for. In practice, these are little more than basic web pages with limited client data - more importantly, they generally fail to address the need of the client - whom more often than not, requires answers from a human being. This is one of the major factors in organisations calling upon the services of Utility Aid. Utility Aid employs knowledgeable people who are able to immediately address the query of the customer, or go and find out the answer to the query. I will discuss more about Utility Aid resolving customers issues in the next blog.

However, for now, suppliers raising prices but not raising customer service is absurd! The supplier mentality of "sign them up now, but then provide as little support as we can get away with, afterwards", is not only backward and outdated, it is infuriating and patronising to consumers, who are both smart and deserving, and should be treated as such.

The annals of corporate failure are littered with umpteen businesses that have ignored the demands of the consumer. It's time for energy providers to move out of the dark ages. We have the communication capabilities unimaginable even five years ago. So, I ask, why are these opportunities not being taken and exploited? Make life easier for your customers - that should be the driving force of an organisation - a customer centered approach at all times.

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