Billing and complaints remain central to customer service challenge

Written by Ian Barker Small headshot image of Ian Barker, Managing Partner at BFY Group.
18 Jan 2021
Energy Market

Two reports just published by Ofgem give great insight into the status of energy supplier customer service and the best area to focus on to improve customer relationships, namely billing and complaints processes.

Firstly, a report called ‘Household consumer perceptions of the energy market’ was published last week. It covers Q3 2020 and is based on a survey of domestic bill-payers. It is run by Ofgem and Citizens Advice in partnership.

Among the survey’s finding, it found billing queries were second only to providing a meter reading as the reason for contacting a supplier. In addition. billing was easily the most common reason for making a complaint – twice more frequently cited as the next reason, which was price of energy.

The research found the most common issues with billing were lack of clarity around how bills are calculated, followed by difficulty in finding key information and the language being too complicated.

Once a formal complaints process is started, it is evidently hard for suppliers to impress customers. A high level of customer dissatisfaction about complaints processes was expressed. Of customers who made a complaint, around 50% were dissatisfied with the way their complaint was handled and the amount of time it took to resolve.

Yesterday, Ofgem published its ‘Energy supplier performance scorecard’, which adds Q3 2020 results to previous periods. This report combined with the report above helps to build a fuller picture of where pressure is building for suppliers.

Much of the scorecard is concerned with trends in the number of complaints received by suppliers of different sizes. Over the last few years, complaint numbers have generally declined. During the initial phase of lockdown early in 2020, larger suppliers saw a notable decline in complaints, but they soon started to tick upwards. Medium suppliers saw less of that early decline and their complaints too soon began to rise.

While we can’t prove causality between the economic damage caused by Covid-19 restrictions and increasing numbers of complaints, there is a very strong correlation. With downwards pressure on household incomes likely to remain high while the long-term economic impact of Covid-19 plays out, it is safe to assume that complaints too will continue to grow and sitting at the heart of those complaints will be billing.

Suppliers aiming to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 must provide fewer reasons for customers to complain – for example, by ensuring that bills are simple to read and clearly indicate how they’ve been calculated.

With lockdown putting pressure on staffing levels, it can be tempting to take your focus off back office in favour of maintaining front office service levels. This is likely to be counterproductive. Staying on top of billing exceptions is key to minimising demand and unwelcome issues for your customers.

Complaints handlers must also be fully equipped to empathise with customers who may not admit it but are experiencing financial difficulties, as well as to be experts in rapidly addressing all matters raised relating to bills.

Ian Barker

Ian shapes the BFY vision and inspires our team to bring it to life, while remaining central to complex client engagements in Strategy, Commercial, and Operations.

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Small headshot image of Ian Barker, Managing Partner at BFY Group.