It’s a gas!
No two ways about it.
Sure, we all need gas, electric and water. And probably an internet connection these days, too.
But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt when that brown envelope drops through the letterbox and we have to part with some of our hard-earned cash.
On the plus side, you’d assume that the likes of the energy companies aren’t screwing us, right?!
Surely these major organisations know what they are doing when it comes to number crunching and keeping things running smoothly?
Watch out, imbeciles are about!
I was staying with elderly relatives last week. Our rock and roll evenings generally consisted of watching some re-runs on television.
You know the ones… picturesque, quintessential English village that you are surprised anyone still lives in. Because someone always gets murdered.
It was all I could do not to beg someone to pop me off after three nights of the same old tedium.
Before I got the chance to throw myself in the nearest beck, though, something piqued my interest.
We actually viewed an episode of Watchdog.
And it was hear that I learned about an epic fail from energy giant, British Gas.
Talk about an emotional end-user experience.
It turns out that consumers are continually being chased for money that they don’t owe.
And it gets worse… some of the people being hounded and made to ‘cough up cash’ have never even been British Gas customers!
Seriously, you couldn’t make this shit up!
There were people all over the country in the same boat, although residents of a new build development in Wolverhampton were the main focus.
Some residents had no bills at all for months.
(Granted, I wouldn’t mind that, as long as the error never actually came to light! But imagine how painful it would be when/if the monumental error was discovered!)
Instead, though, the bills were being sent to houses on a nearby street, presumably with the same street name and house numbers.
Some of these poor, unsuspecting individuals were even receiving visits from debt collectors.
Talk about horrific customer service.
We are surrounded…
Seems it’s not a standalone problem for British Gas though.
It’s been going on for years. They are clearly all muppets.
Some time ago, price comparison website uSwitch carried out a study that revealed more than a million energy customers had been overcharged by a whopping £102 million over a 12-month period, thanks to billing cock-ups.
Somewhere in the region of 1.3 million (quite a few, then!) households paid an average of £79 more than they owed.
And, of course, any supplier is quick to take money from us. But they don’t act with any haste when it comes to paying it back!
It took, on average, over a month for folk to get a refund.
What’s more, one in three customers were affected.
In many cases, people were either being charged for amounts that didn’t tally with their meter readings, or their bills simply didn’t add up correctly.
In other faux pas’, suppliers were getting direct debits wrong, applying incorrect fees and muddling up bills (as per the British gas farce).
And, of course, these errors are only the ones that came to light.
Let’s face it… there are a lot of people out there that don’t even study their bills.
So, in reality, the total amount of billing errors is probably a lot higher than the £102 million being bandied around.
It really does add insult to injury, when we are already smarting from continual energy company price hikes.
Hard to say I’m sorry…
Companies are by no means quick enough to admit to their errors, never mind actually saying sorry.
But it really is time they pulled their finger out.
Let’s face it… we all know how vitally important customer service is if you want to stay afloat.
Following their research, Uswitch called for market regulator Ofgem and suppliers to reduce billing errors and reimburse consumers within a month.
They also asked that bills are made easier to understand, so that customers can actually make sense of what’s in front of them.
End-users could definitely do with an explanation as to how a bill has been calculated, whether or not it was based on an actual meter reading, whether their account is in credit and what they could do to save money.
Yes, clear – and accurate – bills are the least we should be able to expect.
Sure, Centrica, which owns British Gas, did actually apologise in response to the Watchdog report (presumably through gritted teeth!)
Of course, they did spout a load of bull and came up with excuses as to why the mistakes had happened in the first place.
(New house meters being recorded against plot numbers instead of house numbers, causing confusion with neighbouring properties, blah, blah, blah)
But it doesn’t really do much to alleviate the stress caused to those that were messed around in the first place.
Putting the customer first
I do like it to some degree though when the giants screw up.
It not only makes us mere mortals feel a little smug when we are getting things right, but it is also a real eye-opener as to what not to do.
It is vital to cross those t’s and dot the i’s.
Customers have to be treated fairly. Otherwise they will look elsewhere.
And if you do mess up, you need to make sure that you have effective customer feedback management systems in place so that customers can reach out to you via their chosen means.
(Yes, that includes social media. End-users love a good BMW (bitch, moan and whine) out there in the public domain!)
Make sure you offer clarity in everything you do, especially when you’re asking people for money.
You cannot expect to win consumer faith and loyalty by blindly stumbling round in the dark, making epic mistakes.
Can you hear me, energy suppliers?!
Now, if someone could just light a match to that (British) gas… I love a good bonfire!