British Gas - what difference would a working billing system have made?

13th May 2008

I can't begin to tell you how sad (ahem) I am to see that poor old British Gas has had to go to court against Accenture in a £182 million lawsuit over a customer billing system in 2001.

When the system was rolled out in 2006-2007, Centrica suffered a huge rise in complaints to Energywatch from its customers, according to the suit. In addition to the initial £300 milion investment in the system, British Gas was forced to make ongoing investments, including recruitment costs to address the system failures.

In a statement, Centrica said: "An independent analysis of the billing system has concluded that Accenture was responsible for fundamental errors in the design and implementation of the system. Unfortunately British Gas has been left with no option but to pursue legal redress against Accenture to compensate for its losses."

An Accenture spokesman said: "We are disappointed that Centrica is seeking to blame British Gas' past customer service problems on this system. Centrica is only trying to shift blame for a situation it created."

I'm not about to comment on the rights and wrongs of the case for or against Accenture here, that's for the courts to decide. But I will note (again) my fundamental belief that all the customer management systems in the world won't help if your attitude towards your customers stinks to start with.

It occurs to me that the Accenture system could have performed at 101 percent efficiency and it wouldn't have changed the fact that - in my opinion - British Gas is a bullying, threatening company whose call centre staff are among the most unpleasant and downright offensive, not to mention seemingly willfully ignorant and obtuse, in the market and who wouldn't know the meaning of customer management if you were to spell it out on their reply prompt screens.

Anyone who - like me and thousands of others - has been trying to reason with British Gas over clearly ludicrous gas bills for thousands of pounds and only receiving intimidation and harassment in return, can bear testament to that.

Of course, now that they've gone to court (and thus public) over the billing system's supposed problems, it does mean that call centre staff can no longer deny that there's something wrong with it. This was a standard line of attack on their part - 'Nothing wrong with our billing system, you owe us whatever number it is that the computer says! Pay up or we kick your door down etc etc etc'.

Oh, what am I thinking? Stupid, stupid, stupid! This is British Gas. They're never going to let an annoying fact get in the way of dumping on their customers...of course, it's still our fault! Pay up or they'll still kick your door down!

Still, if they lose the court case they can always recover some of their outlay by bumping up Granny's gas bill again - maybe another 20 percent on top of next winter's 30 percent increase? Luvvly, as they say, jubbly!


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