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Customer satisfaction levels improving among UK utilities

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11th Aug 2015
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UK utilities have vastly improved their customer satisfaction levels in the last 12 months, according to the latest findings in the Institute of Customer Service’s (ICS) UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI).

Despite the improvements, the industry still ranks below all others in terms of customer satisfaction, but is “closing the gap”, the ICS states, thanks to a greater focus on customer service from industry regulator Ofgem and heavy penalties being dished out to those that fail their customers regularly.

Last December, British Gas were hit with a an £11.1m penalty for failing to provide thousands of poor households with free insulation under a Government scheme, while other leading providers such as Eon have received similar penalties for overcharging customers.

Scottish Power was warned that it “must dramatically improve its customer service” or risk having its sales operations suspended, while consumers rated Npower as having the “worst customer service in the UK”, in November 2014, and British Gas, EDF Energy, E.ON, Scottish Power and SSE were all placed in the bottom 20 of a list of the 100 brands Which? asked UK consumers to rate.

To top this off, Ofgem then referred the energy market to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to “ensure competition works effectively for consumers”.

The extreme attention being focussed on the sector has led many of the leading providers to address their customer service, in some cases (as with Scottish Power) being forced to do so by Ofgem. And the attention appears to be paying off; leading the way in the turnaround, as the only utilities provider in the UKCSI top 50, is Ovo Energy.

Ovo, while a relatively new player in the market, ranks top of the sector and 13th overall in the all sector standings. In addition, EDF Energy is said to have taken great strides in improving levels of satisfaction at a significantly greater rate than any other organisation in the sector.    

“Organisations within the utilities sector have taken positive steps to improve levels of customer service over the past 12 months but the overall picture can be misleading,” says Jo Causon, CEO, The Institute of Customer Service.

“There is a great disparity between the best and worst performing organisations. With such polarisation, some high-performing companies are concealing the amount of work that many others still have ahead of them.

“The sector as a whole must realise that customer satisfaction is heavily influenced by elements such as recommendation or loyalty and, in turn, impacts the bottom line. If customer service is not treated as a strategic business concern, on the boardroom agenda each week, there is a risk that customers will turn to competitors in search of better service. Strong customer service isn’t just nice to have, it is central to the success of a business and a key competitive advantage.”

Causon states complaint handling should be a greater focus for utilities in the near future, and the UKCSI reports that in many cases, utility complaint volumes could be larger were it not for a failure to report issues among many consumers.

41% of utility customers claimed that they did not report problems to their provider because they felt it would make no difference.

33% claimed too often, staff of leading providers ‘seemed uninterested’ when dealing with a complaint as opposed to just 17.1% who were ‘sympathetic’. It is this key issue that means the sector still remains rooted to many industry customer service surveys, Causon adds.   

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