How good are energy suppliers at handling complaints?

By Ombudsman Services | Mar 12, 2019

As the Energy Ombudsman we’re here to help consumers, but part of our role is also to help businesses put things right quickly and effectively.

If a supplier can resolve a complaint quickly by dealing directly with the consumer, without the need for us to get involved, we think that’s better for everyone.

That’s why we found new research published by Ofgem, the energy market regulator, very interesting.

The research, which can be accessed here, was jointly commissioned by Ofgem and consumer support charity Citizens Advice.

Based on a survey of 3,300 domestic energy customers, the study sets out what consumers think about everything from switching supplier to the energy price cap.

The Consumer Perceptions of the Energy Market survey will run four times a year, so watch this space for analysis of future editions.

Consumers CAN get satisfaction

Looking at the first survey, the good news for the industry is that 75% of respondents are either satisfied (40%) or very satisfied (35%) with their energy supplier.

Virtually the same proportion are either satisfied (40%) or very satisfied (34%) with the customer service they receive. Mid-tier suppliers outperform small suppliers and the Big Six on both counts.

Across the entire sector, 70% of consumers are satisfied with the accuracy and ease of understanding bills.

For the 35% of consumers who had tried to contact their energy company during the past three months at the time of the survey, the vast majority did so successfully – with phone emerging as the most popular method of contact.

These findings are interesting, but as the ombudsman we’re all about complaints and complaint handling. So how did the energy sector fare on this front?

A question of complaints

Of the customers who had cause to contact their energy supplier in the past three months, 8% did so in relation to a complaint.

According to the survey, amongst the groups most likely to complain are consumers with a disability and younger people.

Billing problems were found to be the most common cause of a complaint. This tallies with our own data, which shows that billing is the biggest driver of complaints to ourselves as the Energy Ombudsman.

Resolution or frustration?

Less than half (42%) of those consumers who had complained to their supplier in the past three months said their complaint had been resolved.

For 29% of people the complaints process was still ongoing, while 27% had given up pursuing the complaint. Crucially, although the vast majority of consumers were satisfied with the outcome of the complaint, there was more dissatisfaction than satisfaction with the overall handling of the complaint.

In other words, for the typical consumer the experience they go through when making a complaint is more important than the end result.

For the energy industry, this underlines the importance of getting the basics right such as being responsive, treating the customer with courtesy and respect and keeping them updated as their complaint is dealt with.

Handle a complaint well in the consumer’s eyes and you’ll be much more likely to retain their trust and custom, often regardless of the eventual outcome of the complaints process.

How the Energy Ombudsman can help if you’re a business

If you’re an energy supplier, we can help you to build effective, robust complaint-handling processes and policies. Our data and insights will enable you to improve your complaint handling and customer service more generally. Keen to find out more? Email Applications@Ombudsman-Services.org and a member of the team will be in touch.

How the Energy Ombudsman can help if you’re a consumer

If you’re a consumer and you have an unresolved complaint about your energy supplier, we might be able to help. If it’s been eight weeks or more since you logged the complaint, or you have received a deadlock letter from the business, you can bring the complaint to us and we’ll look into it. If, after investigating, we uphold your complaint, we’ll ask the business to take steps to put things right. Find out more.