Magazine article Marketing

Energy Companies

Magazine article Marketing

Energy Companies

Article excerpt

Gas and electricity providers are consistently failing to satisfy their customers, writes Rachel Barnes.

It's all too easy for energy companies to be painted as the bad guys With winter weather on its way and news of energy-price hikes being mooted, the combination makes for an easy news day at the Daily Mail as it homes in on the plight of the innocent victims (OAPs) of the massive-profit-generating multinationals.

Paying the winter fuel bill can be a serious issue for many people, and the energy companies are failing to satisfy customers from all demographics.

In Marketing's customer satisfaction survey 2010, published last week, four energy companies languished at the bottom of the rankings. Collectively, they ranked lower than even the high-street banks when it came to meeting customer expectations and being the type of brand a consumer might recommend to their peers.

No consumer is ever likely to be happy to part with their cash for such an intangible but costly service. This is exacerbated by the fact that direct contact between brand and consumer often occurs only when there are service problems, or a cold call is made, leaving the providers battling a string of negative associations.

As such problems dog the industry as a whole rather than one company, is there anything the energy businesses can do to improve their customers' level of satisfaction?

We asked Paul Dickinson, sales and marketing director at airline Virgin Atlantic, which ranked second in our satisfaction league table, and Thea Bowden, consultant at Promise, which carried out the qualitative research behind the survey. DIAGNOSIS - Two industry experts on how energy suppliers can cosy up to consumers - Paul Dickinson, sales and marketing director, Virgin Atlantic

It has to be said that there can be few categories as low-interest for consumers as their energy supplier. In that context, it is always going to be difficult for them to score highly in surveys.

That said, energy companies seem faceless and have done nothing to distinguish themselves from a customer-service perspective. Many would believe that the main objective of these businesses is to confuse customers as much as possible and then flog them an expensive tariff they don't need.

To improve, the energy companies need to create innovative products that customers can easily understand and compare on a like-for-like basis with alternatives.

Next, the hard sell needs to stop. Instead, these packages should be sold only on the basis of the customer's real requirements. Then the companies need to deliver on their commitments - from the most basic elements of service such as turning up for all appointments. …

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