You may be surprised, but according to research by Ombudsman services in January the number of complaints made to energy suppliers fell by 1.3 million by the end of 2016. Of course, this doesn’t mean that energy firms’ customer service is all rainbows, fluffy marshmallows and unicorns –– there were still 5.5 million complaints made in total; which made up 10% of all consumer complaints for the whole of last year.
Of course, a reduction in complaints is always a good thing, especially when you consider that complaints in some sectors have remained steady – such as in retail. Whilst in other areas, complaints have sky rocketed – notably in transport, where they were up by 400,000 in 2016.
Many people are also finding a new-found confidence when it comes to complaining with around 26% of consumers interviewed saying they were more likely to complain about something now than they were 12 months earlier. So, why is that exactly? Well, nowadays, it’s not a toss-up between like it or lump it – customers have more to choose from. For example, within the energy sector, there are now over 40 providers of gas and electricity. When you consider how this compares to the monopolisation of the Big Six just a few years ago, many customers may feel that they have more options open to them.
And customers genuinely do seem to be voting with their wallets and their feet when it comes to poor service overall. Of those asked, 19% had decided to stop spending money with a particular company because of a bad experience, whilst 15% decided that they would spend less, and a more hardcore 14% of consumers decided to switch supplier altogether.
Where you live is also likely to influence whether or not you make a complaint. The most vocal complainers were from the North-West where residents raised more than 10 million grievances in 2016, followed by those in Greater London and the South-East. In contrast, those in the North-East only found around 1.5 million reasons to complain.
Interestingly, the numbers above are for overall complaints, and when it comes to energy switches, there are some correlations with our own January data. The North-West of England has one of the highest percentages of households switching supplier (14.04%). It’s only marginally pipped to the post by the South-East which tops the charts for number of switches at 14.27%. Meanwhile, those in the North-East with the least to complain about, also made the lowest percentage of switches at just 4.43%.
But dealing with a few complaints isn’t just bad for a company’s reputation, it’s also really bad for profit margins. Poor service cost businesses an eye-watering £37 billion last year as customers actively decided to spend less or change supplier, and the energy companies’ share of that loss was estimated at £5.20 billion.
Whilst it’s great that so many of us are making consumer voices heard, not all complaints get aired and it’s estimated that there are around 75 million problems that aren’t addressed – simply because many customers, nearly half (44%) don’t feel it’s worth the hassle of complaining, and more than a quarter admitted that they just couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it.
But apathy and indifference could mean that you’re missing out on some big savings when it comes to your energy provider; with 48 active gas and electricity suppliers – you’re spoilt for choice. So, don’t put up with second best or ‘adequate’ customer service – make like millions of energy customers have already done and vote with your thermostat – it could save you around £200** if you’ve never switched before; so, let’s start comparing!
** Based on OFGEM Bills, Prices and Profits, information correct at 2 March 2016. Switching savings based on a customer moving from an average dual fuel direct debit standard variable tariff with one of the six largest suppliers, to the cheapest tariff available in the market.