Traditional utility providers’ days are “numbered”, according to new research from Quadient released today (31 January).
The research suggests that while utility companies have greater access to consumers than ever before, the majority of UK customers still feel they are being left in the dark – spelling bad news for traditional utility providers.
It found 91 per cent of consumers were willing to switch utility provider and fewer than a quarter (23 per cent) said their utility providers did enough to contact them the last time services were disrupted, such as during the “Beast from the East”.
Furthermore while utility providers have more access to customer data than ever before, 75 per cent of those surveyed say their own data is not being used to help them, with 14 per cent claiming this is despite their supplier promising to do so.
More than half (51 per cent) feel they have more power in their relationship with utility companies than they did five years ago, with the majority willing to switch their utility provider if they feel dissatisfied.
Interestingly 43 per cent of consumers have already stopped using traditional providers in favour of an alternative or are planning to, while a further 41 per cent believe things will get much harder for them.
Mustafa Atik, utilities expert at digital company Quadient, said: “Today’s consumers have less and less patience for businesses that don’t know how to use their information – and none at all for those that don’t meet their own promises.
“As new utility companies offer incentives such as a more personal service, and companies like Ikea aim to draw consumers’ attention with switching services, treating customers purely as an anonymous resource is a recipe for losing business.
“Companies must look at what consumers are demanding and find a way to meet – and ideally exceed – their needs, delivering a first-class customer experience.
“At the very least, if a provider has promised it will make use of customers’ data, it needs to not only use that data, but make the benefits highly visible to the customer themselves.
“Failure to do this will simply breed resentment.”
While a majority (69 per cent) of customers said they switched supplier because they found a cheaper alternative, other factors that would drive consumers to switch included inaccurate billing (44 per cent), data breaches or security issues (33 per cent), poor communication (30 per cent), interrupted service (28 per cent) and companies’ environmental record (20 per cent).
Atik added: “There are no clear winners or losers across the utilities. From gas to electricity, from water to telecoms, the message is the same.
“While cost might be the main concern for consumers, it is also clear that providers are more likely to hang onto their customers, and even attract new ones, if they can offer the experience people expect.
“This needn’t mean creating completely new technological experiences, but it does mean creating a platform which allows providers to have a conversation with their customers – whether over email, text message or via in-home smart meters.
“It means ensuring that information is recorded and shared accurately and appropriately, to reduce the risk of inaccurate bills, data breaches or miscommunication.”
In response to the research, Matthew Vickers, chief executive and chief ombudsman at the Energy Ombudsman, said: “We agree that good service is absolutely central to customer retention and sustainable growth in today’s energy market.
“Quadrient’s finding that inaccurate billing can lead consumers to switch supplier is interesting in the context of our own data, which shows that billing is by far the biggest driver of complaints that come to us.
“Harnessing technology that improves the customer experience can enable suppliers to gain a competitive edge.
“It’s clear, however, that first and foremost consumers want their supplier to get the basics right. Only then will the business have the trust and confidence of its customers, which is a pre-requisite of bringing in data-driven and technology-driven advancements.
“As the ombudsman we are keen to use our data about unresolved complaints to help any supplier that wants to better understand its customer base, improve its complaint-handling process and ultimately win the trust and confidence of consumers.”