Sam Dunn: You walk away from one utility... into a brick wall

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.

s.dunn@independent.co.uk

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
people
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Planning Manager (Training, Learning and Development) - London

    £35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glob...

    Asset Finance Solicitor

    Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - ASSET FINANCE - An outstanding...

    HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

    £350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

    Techincal Accountant-Insurance-Bank-£550/day

    £475 - £550 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Technical Accountant-Insuran...

    Day In a Page

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment