Market view: The big six weak on the web

A customer engagement survey of energy supplier websites found that many do not even try to reconnect with users who have got lost during a switch. Must try harder, says Helen Wilkinson.

A customer engagement survey conducted by online recovery specialists Optilead, which works with a number of energy providers including two of the big six, identified that energy providers are failing at customer engagement and missing opportunities to maximise web conversions.

With more than six million energy accounts being switched in 2015, no-one in the energy sector needs to be told how competitive the marketplace is, but this survey highlights that the majority of energy suppliers are missing huge opportunities to win new customers.

We conducted this survey because we wanted to understand how effectively the energy market manages customer engagement with online visitors. But, we did not expect the results to be so poor. Other industries have better results so we believe this sector needs to really understand what is happening.

To understand how online energy companies in both Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland responded to customer engagement, Optilead conducted testing on 28 energy websites. Each site was tested three times for online abandonment (the moment a website visitor part fills the switching forms but does not complete the switching process) to see how well they managed switching abandonment, and once for callbacks (where a website offers the visitor the opportunity to request an agent call them back) to see how they engaged with customers that require assistance.

A total of 89 per cent of the companies tested did not make any attempt at all to re-engage with these abandoned prospects. That means of the 28 companies we tested, only three picked up our abandonment and made any attempt to connect with us in a bid to win our custom, despite the average yearly energy tariff being in excess of one thousand pounds.

Of the 84 tests conducted over the 28 companies, our researchers only received nine emails letting us know how to complete our order for switching, but not one company called us to see if we needed assistance and to guide us through the process, even though they all received our name, phone and email details.

Having the ability to deliver online abandonment leads directly to your call centre in real time is critical at this point. Our experience shows that visitors who abandon the switching process have normally done so for basic reasons such as not understanding the switching process, uncertainty about cost, uncertainty about switching dates. All of these issues can be overcome by speaking to a customer service adviser, and experience has shown us that our energy clients see significant increases in conversion rates when engaging with these “abandonees” by phone instantly.

Optilead’s second stage of testing on the 28 energy sites was the callback feature. Callbacks offer a fantastic way for customers to request an instant call back relating to switching, and again speaking to an agent directly can often be easier than completing lengthy web forms. Of the 28 energy providers, only three offered a callback feature, and the quickest response was one hour and 33 minutes – more than enough time to for an online visitor to find another energy provider. The longest response was nearly 22 hours, which is well beyond the recommended timeframe of 5-15 minutes to gain the most significant decision-maker contact rates.

Each year vast numbers of customers are looking to switch energy provider, but they are not getting the help they need. By calling within the first ten minutes, you are over three times more likely to convert than calling after one hour.

High rates of abandonment are often put down to complex switching processes. But what energy providers should be looking at is what they can do to make the most of customer engagement and help customers complete switching when they show an interest.

Undoubtedly, Optilead’s own experience within energy providers, including the big six, is that companies using a real-time multi-channel customer engagement solution which includes a mix of phone, email, SMS achieve the best results.