Last week saw the launch of the most recent quarterly energy complaints data compiled by Consumer Focus. This reported that during the last three months of 2011, complaints about the Big Six energy firms fell by 4%. It means that the level of complaints now stands at 83 for every 100,000 customers. This is particularly significant as the number had increased by 26% during the third quarter of the year, showing that many customers were dissatisfied with the service they were receiving.
Despite these improvements, there are still specific problems being faced by consumers and considerable mistrust of providers amongst the public. In the context of these challenging economic times, there are also particular concerns around vulnerable customers who are facing increasing levels of general and energy related indebtedness. According to Ofgem whilst the number of customers repaying energy debt has remained largely unchanged, the amount customers owe has risen over the last couple of years as customers try to manage on increasingly limited resources . Ofgem and CER, in Ireland, have produced guidelines around assisting vulnerable customers, but there is considerable complexity in this area around definition, appropriate support and where the responsibility should lie. In many cases the supporting role is being undertaken by the charity sector through organisations like the Citizens Advice Bureau, St Vincent de Paul and Age Concern with energy companies often making donations to these charities in recognition of their important function.
More broadly, the nature of customer experience within many sectors, influenced by the context of an increasingly risky economic environment, is being shaped by the role of regulation, particularly within utilities, telecommunications, financial services and the public sector. Regulation is crucial to promote open and competitive markets; provide people with the skills, knowledge and information they need to become demanding consumers; and encourage responsible businesses to follow good practice, but it creates complexity for customer experience programmes. One way CCA can help with this is through our Global Standard© programme which can help support organisations to avoid spikes in their complaints and regulatory issues.
The nature of these issues highlights the importance of hitting bullseye within the measurement of customer experience to facilitate the process of analysing and diagnosing underlying causes of complaints. This week a select group of our Customer Experience Network, made up of 52 organisations committed to best practice, met for a definitions day at CCA headquarters in Glasgow. One key issue probed at the day was reviewing how to find robust ways of capturing the Voice of the Customer in our measurement techniques. Often it was felt that the message could be at risk of being lost in translation when communicating to the board, especially if there is reluctance by them to look beyond a purely operational focus. Our current research agenda is focusing on these issues and discussion with members has highlighted a number of key opportunities and challenges in this area – we would love contributions in this area – please contact us
with any thoughts.