Would retailers make better energy suppliers than the current big six?

6th Jan 2015

Have UK consumers completely lost faith in the big six energy providers? A new poll conducted by YouGov and SQS suggests that a large portion of the population believe the energy market is in need of a major shake-up, and that more consumer-focused businesses, such as retailers, may be better placed to take over the sector in coming years.

The study was conducted to gain an understand of consumer opinion in advance of the UK’s national smart meter rollout, in which every household will be given a new smart energy meter by 2020.

It found that a large proportion of the 2,000 respondents were dubious of how well the current crop of energy providers will handle the delivery of the new technology, with 26% stating they felt other, customer-centric brands such as retailers would make for better suppliers.

27% also felt their current energy supplier had a track record of inaccurate billing, poor customer service and delays in fixing problems that don’t bode well for success with smart meter implementation.

Customer perception of utility providers is currently close to rock-bottom, with record complaint levels and the ‘big six’ all being ranked as having some of the worst customer service records among big businesses across the country.

Scottish Power has even been warned by governmental energy regulator, Ofgem that it must dramatically improve its customer service or risk having its sales operations suspended – the third move of its type in the last 12 months.

However, with figures showing that between October 2013 to March 2014, more than two million people in the UK alone switched energy supplier, the sector has vowed to improve its level of service in 2015.

And the YouGov SQS poll revealed that 46% believe current suppliers deserve more time to improve their current customer service record, and that the smart meter switch provided the perfect opportunity to do so.

The research also reveals half (52%) would welcome services, tariffs and offers that better reflect how they actually use energy as well as improved, personalised customer support (22%) – two things the smart meter rollout promises to deliver.

“The smart meter roll out is a wake-up call for established energy providers,” says Angus Panton, director of power and communications at SQS. 

“Our study shows that consumers want targeted, value-added services and greater control over their energy use, but don’t always trust their existing provider to deliver.  There is widespread cynicism about the viability of big IT projects and 62 per cent doubt smart metering will happen in the shifting timeframes. Despite the cynicism, there is an overall customer desire for the advantages and benefits smart meters will deliver.

“The new smart world will generate large volumes of data and for established suppliers it is vital they have the high performing, integrated infrastructure in place to capture, secure and make the most of the real-time data they generate, all day, every day.   Now is the time to test everything, and then test it again – or to turn to the experts who can test it for you.  There won’t be a second chance to get this right.”  

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