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Energy sector fails to light up customer satisfaction

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30th Nov 2006
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Customer satisfaction is at a new low in the energy sector with almost half of consumers saying they are unhappy with service levels.

While the 'Big 6' suppliers have raked in combined profits of £6bn, 5.6 million homes and 2.8 million pensioners can't afford to heat their homes, according to the Customer Satisfaction Report by price comparison firm uSwitch.com

The price comparison website's report found half – 48% - of respondents were unhappy with their energy provider with more and more people suffering from a complete lack of power. The leading suppliers have implemented 13 price increases this year and saw combined profits reaching £6 billion to date.

The survey found six out of ten customers (15.3 million) did not believe they were getting value for money from their supplier. Overall, customer satisfaction levels were down an average of seven per cent year-on-year.

Customers at Scottish and Southern Energy were the most satisfied (61%), the research found, with British Gas and npower, bottom in all seven categories. Half of their combined 9.4 million electricity customers were dissatisfied with overall service provision according to uSwitch.

"The worrying thing for all of us is that whilst prices have gone skyward customer service has gone down across the board," said Ann Robinson, director of consumer policy at uSwitch. "For instance, npower has witnessed a 10% reduction in its overall customer satisfaction and an 8% reduction in the perception that they offer value for money It's not so much a case of energy companies resting on their laurels, as holidaying on them."

"Energy companies have continually increased prices this year but their levels of service remain far from adequate. What is important is how good the customer service provided by your energy company is. It is the quality of the service, not the quality of the product that we are paying for after all.

"Until consumers say enough is enough, there is no pressure on energy providers to right the myriad of wrongs they are currently peddling under the guise of customer service and value for money. Energy companies have continually increased prices this year but their levels of service remain far from adequate. We know that some 7.4 million customers are thinking about switching and we implore them to do it now."

The report said the bottom two suppliers, Npower and British Gas, both have a habit of offering cheap rates during a price-rise season – increasing them later. British Gas is the worst performer, with 56% of customers not satisfied, and it also remains the most expensive provider – on average 12% more expensive than any other 'Big 6' energy provider for gas and 13% for electricity.

Scottish and Southern Energy was the best performer and the cheapest supplier, but did see a 9% reduction in its customer satisfaction score. This was not enough to stop it being placed first in five of the seven categories including value for money, customer service and completing the transfer process for switching customers.

Powergen racked up the biggest improvement in overall customer satisfaction across the industry in the past year, up by two positions since the last survey. Previously ranked bottom, the company came in fourth place this time around. A recent energywatch report found a 55% decrease in the number of complaints against Powergen over the past six months after Powergen brought its call centres back from India to the UK.

British Gas receives almost three times more complaints per million customer accounts than the other suppliers. It came last for overall customer satisfaction with over 56% of customers not satisfied. Recent energywatch figures have revealed a 93% increase in the number of complaints.

npower’s customer satisfaction scores fell in all categories to make it the second least satisfactory provider in the UK. Value for money has dropped by 8% to 36% and overall satisfaction was down 10% to 47% (meaning that 53% of npower customers are not satisfied with the service they get).

USwitch.com published a number of recommendations to improve services. It calls for suppliers to lower prices and be more transparent. Among the other suggestions is that customer interaction with their supplier's call centre must be helpful and solutions-focused and that billing procedures need to be improved as a customer's bill may be their only interaction with their supplier; it must be clear and easy to interpret and understand.

“We must all start acting like consumers and ditching misplaced loyalty in energy companies or any notion that we may be paying more for a better product because this is not the case,” urged Robinson. “The key thing for consumers to remember is that contrary to what some people might believe, it is the same gas and electricity that comes into our homes. What is important is how good the customer service provided by your energy company is. It is the quality of the service, not the quality of the product that we are paying for after all. And the most expensive provider of all – British Gas – is the worst when it comes to customer service

The Customer Satisfaction Report was based on the views of 7492 customers. Eight in ten (79%) said price was the most important factor when it comes to their gas and electricity supply. The top three performing suppliers in the survey have average ‘dual fuel bill sizes’ of under £1,000 while the bottom three are all over £1,000.

Despite this there are still some 10 million households in the UK who are yet to switch either their gas or electricity to a cheaper provider. Consumers are missing out on a combined saving of £2.7 billion per year. To put this in to context, this is almost half of the combined profits (£6 billion) generated by the ‘big 6’ energy suppliers in 2006. If consumers were to wield their power and take their custom elsewhere, it would put a significant dent in the energy providers’ company coffers.

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By llowne
03rd Dec 2006 19:32

Perhaps they would like to broaden the scope of this research to include companies, who do not feature on their cost comparison website?

Utility Warehouse (UWDC) received a far higher rating in research carried out for customer service by Which? magazine. However Utility Warehouse do not pay uSwitch commission, whereas the 'Big 6' do.

Perhaps the fact that UWDC invariably comes out cheaper than the others, is why they do not pay commission to uSwitch.

Details here www.go-fast.co.uk

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