As an entity, energy suppliers are suffering the kind of kicking the great British public usually reserves for politicians, train operators and the media. In response, the “big six” suppliers have to mitigate the ire that met the latest round of price increases with a raft of loyalty and product initiatives.
Npower is offering new loyalty rewards, while EDF is setting up a new team to develop products and services.
Most have launched tariffs that promise to fix prices at levels and dates that could protect customers from the vagaries of price increases as we prepare to enter the colder autumn months.
Marketers working at any of the major suppliers have a tough job. They are forced to develop activity that will persuade customers to use their product less, offering advice on how customers can reduce consumption.
In this regard, the big six do a sterling job, and should be commended for doing so. What they often make a complete hash of, however, is customer communication, with a little humility.
The impenetrable tariffs, over charging, convoluted bills, often ill-informed call centre staff and “rogue” door step salesmen that afflict a sector already among the UK’s most derided will not be solved by a loyalty programme or short-term offer.
What might do the trick is a little stated understanding. Consumers are feeling the pinch. A recent study by the BRC found that the cost of utilities is the biggest concern for customers, and would mean that they spend less on discretionary goods.
I am not going to argue that prices should come down (although, they should), the minutiae of the cost of energy on wholesale markets is not a subject I can confidently comment on.
What I do know a little about, however, is marketing, and the “big six” need to take their cues from the smaller suppliers – such as Ovo and Good Energy – that manage to compete on price and are regarded as offering excellent customer service.
Launching and promoting price fix tariffs and loyalty schemes at the same time as announcing price increases makes a company look as though they are deliberately ignoring the wider pinch.
British Gas, to its credit, has led the way, by launching campaigns that explain why price rises are necessary and what customers can do to mitigate some of the effects.
Others need to do the same and link the messages, otherwise they will look disingenuous at best.