Utilities companies warned as interest in switching hits four year high

27th Feb 2017

The Institute of Customer Service is calling on utilities companies to improve customer service practices or pay the price as Google Trends data reveal interest in switching has hit a four year high.

After analysis of Google Trends data, The Institute discovered over the past five years that the month of January consistently demonstrates a spike in Google searches for price comparison sites – but that searches for ‘change energy supplier’ hit a four year high in January 2017.

Meanwhile, new research from the Institute of Customer Service into attitudes to switching finds factors of customer service and reputation play a key role in why people switch, and who they switch to. One in three consumers say that customer service would prompt them to switch suppliers, while the same number said that the reputation of companies for looking after their customers well prompts decisions on who their new supplier will be.

Tellingly, the 2017 UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) shows the utilities sector has the lowest Net Promoter score out of any industry included in the Index. This means that customers are less likely to recommend their energy supplier than their bank, building society, insurance company or supermarket of choice. In line with this, the Ombudsman Services also recently found that the energy sector was the third most complained about in 2016.

This means that utility companies are going to have to work harder to keep their customers, through improving customer service. Following extensive analysis of weaknesses in customer service for the sector during the UKCSI, the Institute therefore recommends that energy companies follow a six-point checklist to protect their business from losing custom:

1. Make experiences easier and more straightforward for customers
2. Resolve complaints faster
3. Reduce problems by analysing the root cause and taking preventative steps
4. Ensure staff feel fulfilled so they in turn offer a better experience to customers
5. Make sure that digital communications such as email are as high in quality as telephone and written communication
6. Recognise when customers want a fast, efficient experience and when they want empathetic and expert service.

Jo Causon, Chief Executive of The Institute of Customer Service, said: “As organisations face up to uncertainties, opportunities and risks in what is an increasingly volatile political and economic environment it is clear that customer satisfaction is not just an indicator of consumer preferences, but a driver of organisational performance.  As customers’ behaviour and preferences continue to evolve, it is becoming more challenging to achieve tangible loyalty and advocacy.  With inflation increasing, organisations can ill afford to pass these costs on to consumers and expect them to absorb price rises.  To retain their loyalty – and secure new revenue through recommendation – it means organisations have to raise their game and offer straightforward, seamless experiences as well as empathetic help and advice.

“Our research has clearly identified six points of improvement for the sector. If utilities companies put these into action, they will reap the rewards.”


Notes to editors

For further information please contact: 
Ellie Scott, Bethan Davies or Rebecca Stevenson
E: [email protected] 
T: 020 7010 0831 (Ellie Scott), 0207 010 851 (Bethan Davies), 020 7010 0810 (Rebecca Stevenson)  

About The Institute of Customer Service  
The Institute of Customer Service is the professional body for customer service delivering tangible benefit to organisations and individuals so that our customers can improve their customers’ experience and their own business performance.  The Institute is a membership body with a community of over 500 organisational members – from the private, public and third sectors – and over 4,000 individual memberships.  For more information about the Institute of Customer Service go to www.instituteofcustomerservice.com.

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