I took advantage of the energy deals that were around in the autumn of last year and switched supplier to cap my rate.
All went smoothly until this week.
Out of the blue I recieved an email from Scottish Power telling me that they had increased my direct debit by 50%.
To say that I was surprised was an understatement! How could this be I wondered, I took time to calcuate my last years consumption to make the transfer.
The Scottish Power computer told us how much we needed to pay. A good deal, and the job done.
So, I thought that I would make a call to express my surprise and find a solution that suited me.
I waded my way through the usual obstacles of the call routing system that did its best to pursuade me that I did not need to speak to a person and ended up speaking to an unhelpful agent.
Not her fault you understand she had an impossible job in a crap system. No the less her manner left a lot to be desired, and only served to make me more determined to escalate that issue.
She was adamant that the computer said that I owed money and that the direct debit could not be changed.
I quietly explained to her that this was the winter quarter and that I was a new customer, and that as a result the calculation that had been made not three months previously was correct .
She was robust in her view that I had no option but to pay the revised amount.
Now at this point some people would have checked out and put the phone down believing that they had no option ( I bet a lot do, as this is the game that the company want to play afterall its better to have the cash in the company’s account than the customers.You have to keep the shareholders happy).
However, I was quick to advise the agent that I was not taking no for an answer. After a pause, she said that she would log my concerns on the system as a complaint.
Further intransigence on my part finally got her to put the call through to customer services.
The music played out for a good five minutes, and I wondered what was going to happen. Then, all at once the tone of the call changed completely.
At last I was talking to someone with a bit of common sense. The Superviser immediately said that she understood my issue and would withdraw the revised direct debit straight away. Hooray! A victory for common sense.
I asked her if this happened often, oh yes she said it happens when new customers transfer accounts during the winter period.
The computer automatically calculates based upon useage and sends out automatic changes to direct debits and even automates the email to the customer.
I asked if she thought that this might be a training issue for the front line so that they understood this and could respond more effectively to customers in the first place.
Her enthusiastic reply was that there were a number of issues that had to be taken into account with the customer and that the agents did not have all the answers.
She missed my point completely!
However, I did get my problem fixed.
So what did I learn from this experience?
- They have an IT system that automatically upsets customers on a regular basis, because it cannot cope with complexity. It causes frustrated customers to have to wait in a queue to sort out mistakes at their own time and expense. It drives costs in to their system.
- They have a call handling system that is not designed against the demands placed upon it from their customers.
- They have call agents who are not trained to deal with frequent calls.
Now commercially you might think that this makes sense. How many poor unsuspecting customers will just follow what the computer says?
But what does this do for customer relations and customer loyalty? (Scottish Power proudly boasted in an email to me the following day that they had a 91% customer satisfaction rate, and are in the top 50 most improved contact centres).
What are they rating and measuring I wonder to benchmark themselves with others?
Notwithstanding the impact upon the customer the current system drives lots of waste in to their organisation, driving up their costs.
The system generates a change to a direct debit to my bank, and all the accounting activity that goes on behind the scenes, it generates an email to me.
I phone them and they spend 20 mins on the phone, they update and record info in their systems, and pass calls around to supervisors and other departments whilst I wait on the phone.
The result is that all the automatic actions made by the computer have to be manually corrected, and my bank notified of the change. I wonder how much that cost?
The chances are that they will not even see this as an issue.
The waste is hidden in the flow of work around their system and will be owned and managed by different managers. Each will in turn have a focus upon a target to manage their bit.
No one will have their eye on the bigger picture because they are too far removed from understanding the end to end workflow in practice. If they did they would be very interested to listen back to my call and follow the issue back to its root within the business.
Perhaps if a few more leaders got back into the work and understood the true what and why of performance they would begin to focus upon acting on the system and improving outcomes for customers and share holders.
Until then keep an eye on your utility bills and challenge the providers all the way.