For a better price, a greener outcome, or better customer service.
These seem to be the big three.
Customer Service is perhaps the most overlooked of them all – it’s the one where customers have least data to compare – to actually identify a better service.
Switching for this reason will often be a reaction to bad service with their current provider and at the same time a leap in the dark – often out of the frying pan and into the fire.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Since October 2009 OFGEM has obliged all energy companies to record and report their annual customer complaints in a standardised way – making them easily comparable (potentially).
But most people won’t know this and won’t have seen any figures – because they get buried on individual supplier websites. They take some digging out, truth be told.
You’d think that OFGEM, having obliged all suppliers to record and report this data, would actually present it in one place – one easy to read table perhaps, so that it could be used to judge energy suppliers. What otherwise is the purpose of collecting it?
We thought so, we asked, but OFGEM said no. It’s a stance made all the harder to understand given the regulator’s recent focus on the need for people to switch supplier – as some kind of antidote to high energy bills, and Big Six market dominance.
An interesting statistic in this regard is that only 20% of people use price comparison sites when switching. Maybe price isn’t the big driver it’s often taken to be.
Last year, mystified (by OFGEM’s stance) but undeterred, we did the leg work, assembled the data and published it ourselves – we’re just updating it now as this year’s data comes in. It’s here at the foot of this page.
We’ve presented complaint data as a ratio per thousand customers, in order that the figures are properly comparable between all suppliers, irrespective of size. And that’s not just a requirement to be able to compare small independents with the Big Six – the Big guys themselves vary from 5 million customers to over 15 million. A ratio per thousand allows proper comparison between all suppliers. It’s impossible without it.
It’s not just a case of small is good and big is bad. Last years table had a small supplier at the top (ecotricity) and another one at the bottom (Ovo Energy). And within the Big Six, two of the smallest of them sat at both the top and bottom of the spread. Both have 5 million customers.
And Ecotricity topped the table, with complaint levels an order of magnitude lower than the next best company (which was EDF at the time).
This year we’ve reduced our complaint levels by another 20% and we top the table again – easily. We’re pretty chuffed with that of course.
As this was written – EDF were the only supplier that looked likely to meet the deadline this year – until this story broke in the media and they all rushed their figures out.
For EDF it was not good news, with a whopping 40% increase in complaints on last year. Something obviously has gone wrong. Useful to know if choosing a new supplier?
With most figures now out the other clear trend from last year is a reduction in complaints among the small guys (that publish) and an increase in the big guys. Interesting.
We think people do care about good customer service; they just need to know they have a choice. That requires a measure (which OFGEM has provided) and publication (which Ecotricity has).
This is an opinion piece by me that also appeared in Soapbox on Utility Week last Friday (not yet available online)
|No. of complaints per 1000 customers||2010||2011|