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Have UK energy firms turned a customer service corner?

15th Feb 2016
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Customer complaints are down 24% in the UK energy sector, according to figures from industry regulator, Ofgem, published last week.

Energy companies received five million complaints across 2015, down from 6.5 million in 2014.

Npower received the most complaints, with 13,966 grievances per 100,00 customer accounts, followed by SSE with 12,900 complaints per 100,000 and EDF Energy with 11,843 complaints per 100,000 customer accounts.

SSE was the only company among the ‘big six’ suppliers to see an upturn in complaint numbers – around 10.8% compared with 2014.

In fact, Npower’s 13,966 grievances per 100,000 customer accounts was less than half the 28,019 it received in 2014, while EDF Energy was down 38.5%.

Customer service

So have the leading energy companies turned a corner, when it comes to the service they now offer customers? In December, Npower was fined a record £26 million by Ofgem over poor customer service and inaccurate bills, and Scottish Power are still under investigation from 2015.

While customer satisfaction scores are rising in the utilities sector, if attention is on short-term customer acquisition rather than the whole customer experience, we may see this trend reverse

Ofgem’s senior partner, Rachel Fletcher, states any improvements are minor, and that big six companies will continue to be pushed by the regulator to improve.

“I’m pleased to see that complaints to the largest suppliers fell by 24% from 2014 to 2015, but the numbers are still too high and customer service in energy lags behind many other sectors.

“People voting with their feet sends the strongest message to suppliers that they should keep a focus on their customer service.”

New regulations introduced in October have increased competition in the sector, and December 2015 saw 338,253 electricity switches – above average for the year.

The latest electricity switching data also shows a net gain of 100,904 for small and mid-tier suppliers, roughly 30% of all switches for the month.

But far from being an exercise in the new companies under-cutting incumbent prices, Jo Causon, CEO for the Institute of Customer Service, believes the independents are as focused on hitting the big six where it most hurts – their continued customer service failures – as they are on honing in on price:

“Our research shows that the majority of customers prefer a balance between cost and service. While customer satisfaction scores are rising in the utilities sector, if attention is on short-term customer acquisition rather than the whole customer experience, we may see this trend reverse. To ensure it doesn’t happen, organisations must focus less on transactions and more on building relationships with their customers.

“There is also evidence to suggest that customer satisfaction in the utilities sector is improving faster than any other UK industry, but electricity, gas and water suppliers still face the difficult hurdle of improving staff engagement and rebuilding trust with customers, if these improvements are to lead to sustained business success.”

With regulatory fines continuing to hurt many of the big six companies, it may be that customer trust will continue to be difficult to rebuild, and that customer service will need to be the sole focus in 2016, despite the decrease in complaints last year.        

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By PaulineAshenden
26th Feb 2016 08:06

Customer service and price are the two main ways utilities can differentiate themselves – after all, electricity and gas does the same job, whoever supplies it. Drops in complaints are welcome, but Eptica research shows that utilities need to focus on the overall, multichannel customer experience if they are to rebuild consumer trust – more in this post at

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