Dealing with a super detractor

Liana Vickery

August 24, 2015

When someone in the insight industry comes across poor customer experiences from one of the country’s biggest energy suppliers, it’s difficult not to reflect on where it all went wrong. Here, Head of Marketing Liana Vickery explores the very real complaint procedure she had to endure and how, with just a few simple steps, things could have been so different.

For the past several months, I’ve been in an on-going complaint with a certain energy provider. Throughout the entire process, I’ve felt – in fact, I know – that things could have been done better. From start to finish, there’s been little regard for my overall customer experience, resulting in my very real status of ‘super detractor’.

I often wonder that if things were handled differently, would I have remained a customer? Instead, I’m now going from person to person describing how bad of a company they are and how under no circumstance would I ever become of customer of theirs again.

How I became a super detractor

My path to a super detractor is a long and painful one.

It initially started with an error on my account late last year and after an initial phone call, I was promised that it would be rectified – the issue needed to be investigated by the operations team but someone would be in contact within 28 days to explain more.

28 days came and went with no contact. When I chased the issue, I was told that there was a backlog of investigations and that my case would be looked at shortly. Again, I was promised contact within 28 days.

When another month went by and when I still hadn’t heard anything, I went straight to the Ombudsman – by this point, I felt this was my only option if I was to force any action on my account.

As soon as the issue was flagged by the Ombudsman, I was given a dedicated complaint handler who I was told would be in regular contact with me (at least every two weeks) while the issue was sorted. While this proved to be true for the first couple of weeks (although the letter I received from them was addressed to the wrong person*), the contact soon dried up and the issue came to a sudden halt again.

By this time, I’d sent an up to date meter reading as requested expecting my account to be settled. Instead, around six weeks later, I received my latest bill informing me that I was to be put on a new payment plan.

This wasn’t what I asked for and when I queried the bill, I was told that if I was to leave the provider, I could be liable for a charge. At this stage, my experience hit rock bottom. It was in complete contradiction to the compensation package that I’d been offered – clearly my ‘dedicated’ account handler was not as dedicated as promised and had failed to read any previous communication related to my case.

When I complained (again) at this point, I had no response to three different emails. Having exhausted other efforts, I decided to take my complaint public and turned to Twitter; within 45 minutes of tweeting their customer service team I had a response assuring me that someone would be in touch.

By now, I wasn’t really expecting much and when no contact materialised, I was forced to pick up the phone (yet again). When I explained the situation to the person who happened to answer that day, he was shocked. He was also really sympathetic and took the time to explain what had gone wrong, how he’d be escalating the whole situation and how he’d personally make sure that my complaint would be resolved – finally someone who I actually felt could help.

Where everything went wrong

Ignoring the initial issue with my account, where this particular energy provider went wrong was setting expectations and not following through on a number of occasions.

By mapping my emotions across my complaint journey, it’s clear to see that when things went really wrong on the several occasions it was left to me to spend my time and energy chasing the issue, when really it should have been the other way around.

Emotional curve

How to improve

It’s obvious that this particular energy provider faces a number of fundamental issues, not least the speed at which issues are investigated and resolved. However, this entire situation would have been a lot less painful if a number of simple steps were put into place.

Firstly, this company need to empower their frontline staff. Hearing stories such as ao.com’s ‘fanatical customer service’ approach (call centre staff have no financial restraints when it comes to solving problems) makes you realise just how poor their approach to customer service actually is.

It suggests that employee engagement at the energy provider isn’t top of mind.

At eDigitalResearch, we’ve suggested in the past that putting customers second and staff first will lead to a better customer experience. By empowering employees with just a little bit of trust and responsibility, you’re likely to breed a better working environment – one that will reflect across to the customer experience. The treatment of staff in general is important – if staff feel valued, they’re more likely to deliver great service.

This leads to me to another assumption – their staff simply don’t have the tools they need to do a good job. If staff had access to a complaint management system – for example, our eCustomerConnect platform – then it’s likely my issue would have been captured and monitored correctly from the offset. It would have meant my problem would have been solved, I could still be a customer and I wouldn’t be sharing how bad my experience was with the world.

In a day and age where the customer experience really is everything, I really was shocked to come across such poor customer service.