The quality of the customer experience in the UK energy sector is a topic that attracts increasing attention, manifesting itself in a range of consumer surveys and press commentary.
Only recently, Citizens Advice released its latest research on customer satisfaction with UK energy suppliers. This revealed that bill errors are the most common problem for people contacting the Citizens Advice consumer service helpline. Bill errors were also revealed to be the most common complaint for customers of three of the bottom five suppliers, as ranked by the latest edition of the charity’s energy star rating rankings for domestic energy suppliers.
The Citizens Advice findings showed that inaccurate billing accounted for 60% of customers’ problems, followed by the way complaints were handled (17%), and phone waiting times (12%), in terms of the most important service issues.
The Energy Ombudsman, which aims to address unresolved disputes between energy suppliers and customers, also recently revealed that the biggest billing problems were disputed energy usage, disputed account balances, and delays.
The Household Consumer Perceptions of the Energy Market Report Q3 2019, which is a tracking survey of domestic energy bill payers commissioned jointly by Ofgem and Citizens Advice, listed the main reasons for complaints to suppliers as: pricing/cost of energy (31%); bill problems (28%); smart meter problems (19%); a discount not applied (17%); a problem with a direct debit (16%); managing payments (16%); a problem with a refund (12%) and attitude or behaviour of staff (11%).
We are now in an era of significantly higher customer expectations than in the past, and that applies to energy suppliers as much as other sectors. This trend is only heightened by the increase in the number of new “challenger” energy suppliers in recent years, some bringing with them customer experience standards from other sectors. The market is changing, with a move towards the increased “bundling” of services to the domestic consumer, and so ratcheting up competition for customers.
The rise in the number of younger, more engaged customers, together with advances in technology, will increasingly shape the UK energy market. Millennial customers interact with their supplier more frequently, often through social media, and demand a more personalised and flexible service. They want more control over their energy supply, will often “share” their experience of a supplier with their social media contacts, and will compare the service with their experience of other sectors. Suppliers will need to be increasingly responsive to their customers, and look for a deeper engagement, focusing on a high standard of service, personalisation and innovation. The next generation of customers will want more from their supplier than just the lowest tariff in the market.
The roll-out of smart meters will provide suppliers with huge amounts of data about their customers. The analysis of that data should mean that customers receive an increasingly personalised service, with greater customer/supplier interaction. The availability of data will continue to grow with the expansion of the internet of things and the connected environment. At the same time, more customers will be interacting with their supplier electronically and through social media, demanding a service that responds in the way they want it and at the times they need.
Quality of customer service has never been more important to UK energy suppliers, a trend that will only increase as the new generation of customers and technology enter the market. Surveys and customer research, like that conducted by Citizens Advice, will therefore attract increasing attention and have ever greater impact.
Nick Fothergill, partner in the corporate team of law firm Hewitsons