Big Six marketing pushes not translating into perception boosts

Marketing-led service initiatives by the Big Six energy companies have a long way to go according to new research from consumer watchdog Which? that suggests the companies are still failing customers in terms of service and value for money.

Smaller providers are also scoring higher for the fourth year in a row, according to the latest annual energy company satisfaction survey from the consumer body.

The survey, carried out in September and October of 2014, asked energy customers to rate companies on a range of criteria including value for money, customer service, complaints handling, clarity and accuracy of bills, as well as how the companies help customers save energy, with a total customer score based on overall satisfaction and the likelihood of recommending the company to a friend.

The Big Six all ranked at the bottom of the list due to customer service issues, such as dealing with complaints or ensuring bills are accurate and clear.

Npower scored lowest for the fourth year in a row with 35%, followed by Scottish Power at 41%, putting both companies well below the industry average of 48%.

EDF Energy and British Gas were given a score of 49%, with E.ON and SSE at 50%.

The scores come despite efforts by the Big Six to turn around their reputations through customer-focused brand campaigns, with Npower launching a campaign last fall called “The Way Energy Should Be” which looked to target customers affected by what the brand called a “difficult period” of service issues upon the implementation of a new billing system.

Last October, British Gas pushed outdoor ads to promote its remote-controlled central heating service Hive, while SSE revamped its marketing strategy to be more customer-oriented with a campaign that celebrated the “wonderful things” energy fills consumers’ lives with.

As well as making moves to improve customer satisfaction, the Big Six have started to introduce price cuts after UK business, energy and enterprise minister Matthew Hancock called on the companies to do so given that the price of oil has dropped by more than 50% since June 2014.

While it was believed the companies would not cut prices before the election with the Labour party pledging to freeze energy prices for 20 months if elected, E.ON was the first to announce it would cut gas prices by 3.5%, afterwards triggering cut from rivals British Gas and Scottish Power, with the remaining three suppliers expected to follow suit over the coming days.

Meanwhile, challengers to the Big Six are launching their biggest campaigns to date to tap into the disquiet over customer complaints.

Last week, independent supplier First Utility launched its first national TV campaign highlighting the added value and services it promises to offer in order to tackle the inert market that sees the Big Six utility firms take advantage of customer disengagement, while last year Ovo Energy looked to “shake” the dominance of the Big Six with its first TV brand campaign.

Smaller providers also ranked higher than the Big Six for the fourth year in a row, with Ecotricity at the top with a score of 84%, Good Energy at 82%, Ebico at 81%, Ovo Energy at 80%, Utility Warehouse at 76% and Flow Energy at 73%.

Despite the low scores of the Big Six, Which? says the average customer score has risen to 48% from 41% last year, though the figure is low compared to other industries.

Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, says: For the fourth year running, smaller suppliers are wiping the floor with the Big Six on customer service. The large energy firms, which dominate the market, need to up their game as millions of customers deserve better.

“We need the Competition and Markets Authority to propose radical remedies to fix this broken market. Instead of waiting for the outcome of the competition inquiry, companies should make immediate improvements to help restore trust among their long-suffering customers.”

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  • Pohnjin 22 Jan 2015 at 11:56 am

    I can speak from experience with NPower. The most ignorant, inflexible, inaccurate, and downright useless company I have ever dealt with. ‘The way energy should be’ is provided by anyone other than them.

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