Sam Dunn: You walk away from one utility... into a brick wall
Sunday 21 May 2006
Don't talk to British Gas about consumer inertia.
The utility revealed on Friday that, in the year to date, it had lost 350,000 customer accounts. Disillusioned with the price hikes of 22 per cent introduced in February, they did what all companies fear - voted with their feet.
Whether they used switching websites, did their own research or simply reacted to advertising from a rival, their decision showed a willingness to hunt for a better deal.
One can only applaud because, in the long run, everyone should win: the deserting customers will save money and the losing company will try to improve its performance to keep other customers loyal, and also to win new business.
Switching from companies to which households have been loyal for a long time - chiefly those supplying gas, electricity, landline phones, mortgages, and home and car insurance - used to be for the few. Now it is a popular pursuit.
That's what figures from switching websites tell us, though the trend began to hit home for me when a taxi driver extolled the virtues of his new broadband deal recently.
The idea of switching as a new national hobby was reinforced by the subsequent revelation that my normally tolerant parents had decided to dump BT after 30 years, shopping around for a decent internet deal and, ironically, opting for the Post Office - BT's precursor, from which they got their first phone in the 1970s - for landline services.
With burgeoning competition in the broadband and mobile phone markets, the scope for saving money can only get bigger.
However, the downside to all this frenzied activity is that many companies are struggling to cope with the inflow of new business. And when this translates into administrative glitches, there's a danger of all the good work being undone.
According to the, admittedly limited, research on switching, many people couldn't care less whether they make some extra annual savings by swapping company X for company Y.
But they will change supplier - whatever the industry - if the service they receive deteriorates.
It would be a shame if this switching momentum lost some of its power because of rising dissatisfaction over new customer service problems.
Companies don't generally publish the number of complaints they get from consumers, and that's no surprise: there's plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest a steep upward slant in grievances among people who have switched.
Few of us have yet to experience the exasperation of running into a wall of customer service staff unwilling, or unable, to help. And of all the modern-day gripes, those concerning faulty gas and electricity bills are some of the most galling.
Too often, the Money postbag at The Independent on Sunday details the agony of readers baffled by the mistakes of the power suppliers. The wrong address, inaccurate estimates and astronomical "phantom" bills for unused services - these are the most common problems, though there are plenty of others.
Happily, the consumer burden should be about to get lighter. In July, a new energy industry "switching and billing" ombudsman will be created to help resolve these problems and more.
Supported by its staff, the ombudsman will try to tighten some of the industry's looser practices.
If successful, the concept should immediately be rolled out to other sectors.
As switching embeds itself in our consumer culture, the numbers running into administrative difficulty will probably rise. Bring on the ombudsmen.
Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown
- 1 The way the police have treated Cliff Richard is completely unacceptable
- 3 Michael Brown shooting: Ferguson police shoot and kill second young black man
- 5 Reading Festival 2014: Tesco branch replaces salad and potatoes for Jagermeister and vodka
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Crisis? What crisis? A visiting US doctor gives the NHS a rave review
Ukip MEP calls for reintroduction of death penalty on fiftieth anniversary of last deaths
Russell Brand calls for Israel boycott: Comedian urges big businesses that 'facilitate the oppression of people in Gaza' to pull funding
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
iJobs Money & Business
£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glob...
Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - ASSET FINANCE - An outstanding...
£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...
£475 - £550 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Technical Accountant-Insuran...
Day In a Page
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village
A one-bedroom, luxury apartment with private gym and concierge service in Moorgate
A four-bedroom house in Hermitage Gardens with three reception rooms and landscaped gardens
A seven-bedroom Grade II-listed property with a separate self-contained apartment
A five-bedroom Victorian house with three reception rooms and galleried landing, £695,000
A six-bedroom farmhouse with five acres of land in a former cloth-making village
A secluded seven-bedroom detached house with large private garden, £490,000
A three-bedroom cottage overlooking Sarratt village green with open fires and solid oak floors
A three-bedroom maisonette flat in a Grade I-listed, Georgian townhouse in a sought-after location
A one-bedroom apartment located within a private gated development, north of Turnham Green
Look forward to a brighter future at two-bedroom Sunny Cottages, ideal for Londoners looking to downsize
A three-bedroom red-brick cottage with outbuildings and pretty gardens, £200,000
This three-bedroom flat within a former textile factory spans the corner of the fourth floor and has a balcony