For many consumers, our relationships with our energy and utility providers tick along and are fairly transactional. They supply what we need, we use it, and we pay for what we use, and the cycle goes on. There is little contact but it’s a slick and efficient process, much of which in my instance is done online.
So when something big happens, like moving house (a pretty stressful time for most people), providers have a good opportunity to engage more with customers, giving them the extra support and reassurance they need, and building trust. In other words, connecting more emotionally, and ensuring we feel our business is valued.
In my experience, we took the ‘better the devil you know’ route by contacting our two existing gas and electricity providers to ask them to transfer their services to our new home. Something told us that this would be easier and take less effort given they already knew us. We couldn’t have been more wrong.
The first provider (both shall remain nameless but are well known brands) explained that due to heightened regulatory issues they now needed to conduct a 45 minute phone call to ask lots of questions and then explain the tariffs and advise on the right one; with no flexibility in their approach. Whilst we appreciated why this was being requested, the timing couldn’t have been worse, and all we wanted was a short conversation to transfer what we had for the time being and review later once settled into our new home. We also couldn’t help thinking why they’d never chosen to do this before in the many years we’d been a customer. It actually came across as being a sales call that wasn’t at all in our interest.
The second provider, another preferred company for many years, had no issue automatically transferring what we needed and did so with absolute efficiency, so much so that we fairly quickly chose to become a dual energy customer. Their staff were professional, their communication was clear, and they instilled confidence – impressive.
But sadly these first impressions haven’t lasted. Since then they’ve had technical issues with their IVR and website resulting in key meter readings not being accurately recorded, we’ve not yet had a full bill for the energy we’ve used in the last quarter and don’t have a feel for our budgeting for future bills, and they’ve sent us incorrect written correspondence referring to an account type we don’t have. Not surprisingly we’ve been confused and annoyed. This has also meant we’ve had to contact their call centre to find out what’s going on, and its only due to the excellent staff we’ve spoken with and their reassurances, that we’ve given them more time to get things right. But underlying all this is an impression of technology not functioning properly or being able to cope with the customer needs, and of different parts of their business not working well enough together to deliver an integrated and consistent level of service.
Today, the buzzwords for many companies are being ‘customer centric’, but experiences like these don’t reflect that promise and damage its authenticity. At worst, customers who once didn’t feel a need to shop around, finally make the decision that loyalty isn’t worth it.