In 2011, we continued to improve the level of service we provide to our customers. The roll-out of our £200 million investment in new customer service systems began, and we achieved further reductions in the number of complaints across our customer base.
We work hard to make sure our customers are on the very best deal for them and we will continue to improve the service we offer our customers. In October 2011, npower was the best performing energy supplier in a Which? investigation into energy telesales. The investigation checked whether callers were informed of the best deals and also rated companies for advising whether tariffs had any exit fees attached. npower scored the highest results in each category. Which? repeated the investigation in November and in all calls made to npower, they were told about the cheapest deal available.
We were proud to be classed as ‘Best in Sector’ in the Call Centre Focus awards, which came as a result of increased training and focus on our customer-facing teams. We aim to answer our customers' enquiries as quickly as possible and in 2011, we answered over 70% of all phone calls within 20 seconds, with an average call drop-off rate of 4% over the course of the year.
We aim to understand our customers’ needs and analyse the root cause of any complaint1 to resolve issues and prevent problems from recurring. As a result of our efforts to improve our customer service, we saw a significant reduction in the number of complaints received in 2011. Complaints to Consumer Focus and Consumer Direct from our residential customers fell by over 32% in 2011 compared to 2010; we also reduced complaints from our business customers, recording a 50% reduction from our Industrial & Commercial customers and a 69% drop in complaints from our SME customers. The number of MP complaints we received during the year remained at a similar level; 173 complaints were received in 2011 compared to the 175 in 2010, which was a significant reduction from previous years.
Between 1 January and 31 December 2011, we received 115,776 complaints from residential customers which could not be resolved on the same day or the next working day after the complaint was received. This represents 1% of all contacts received during this period.
In 2011, we reduced the number of complaints we receive from our residential sales as a result of continued effort in this area. In 2011, only 0.27% of total residential sales resulted in an upheld complaint2, narrowly missing our target of 0.2%. Although in December 2011 we had begun to achieve this target, our yearly average as a percentage of total sales was affected by the reduced sales volumes following our decision to end doorstep cold selling.
We also maintained an excellent performance in the service that our business customers received. Our business service teams answered 87% of calls within 20 seconds. We continue to increase the number of enquiries we resolve at first contact. In 2011, we recorded 12,335 complaints from SME customers, which could not be resolved by the end of the next working day following receipt. This equates to less than 2% of the total amount of correspondence we received in 2011.
In 2011, Ofgem concluded an investigation it undertook in 2010 concerning our complaints process. The investigation found some failings in the way we were dealing with customer complaints. Of the 68 regulatory requirements, we were found wanting in the following areas:
- Some complaints did not have all the details required
- Some details about the Ombudsman Services: Energy were not passed on to customers
- Some of our complaints procedures were not as efficient as they should have been
We take our responsibilities very seriously and accepted a £2 million penalty for breaching the regulations. We have rectified any errors in our complaints procedures and how clearly we signpost complaints contacts in our customer communications. The steps we have taken to improve how we deal with complaints and ensure we comply with regulations were acknowledged by Ofgem at the time the penalty was announced.
In 2011, it was recognised that a mixture of increasing prices and a squeeze on household incomes had a negative effect on the reputation of the energy industry and, in particular, of the major energy suppliers. There was also an increase in media coverage of the energy sector and the number of press complaints rose slightly in 2011 to 105 from 95 in 2010.
Our position in industry league tables, relative to other suppliers, has improved slightly and, whilst we are encouraged to see improvements in our performance, we need to build on this in 2012.
In 2010, we set ourselves a target to achieve a three-star rating in the Consumer Focus performance table. We were pleased to meet this target by the end of 2011. We continue to work hard to introduce and embed customer-focussed initiatives and aim to remain at three stars throughout 2012.
In 2011, JD Power announced that it would no longer publish an annual UK Electricity and Gas Supplier Customer Satisfaction Study. Although we remained at the bottom for the gas study, we improved our performance in electricity supply in 2011, moving up one place from the bottom of the table in their final electricity study. We will be considering a suitable alternative metric to measure our performance going forward.
In 2010, the Government announced that it would abolish the consumer body, Consumer Focus, as part of its spending review. In July 2011, the Government launched a consultation on the future of consumer representation, to which we have responded. We believe that any future energy sector advocate must be truly independent and free from any commercial bias and must also use evidence from a wide range of consumers to drive its priorities.
Whatever the outcome of the Government’s proposals, we will work closely with any new energy sector advocate along with consumer protection groups to ensure that consumers are not adversely affected by these changes.
Gas customer refunds
In 2010 we worked with Consumer Focus to address concerns that a change to our gas charges in 2007 had left some customers adversely affected. As a result, we made the decision to provide refunds to those customers. The announcement was made in September 2010 and, throughout 2011, we continued to issue refunds to eligible customers.
We have since improved the process for revising customers' bills payments to ensure that any changes are always communicated clearly: for example, when implementing an increase in prices, our customer letters now clearly state both the old and new billing rates, as well as the percentage difference to prices.
1 A complaint is defined as any expression of dissatisfaction, taken from the Gas and Electricity Regulations 2008 (Consumer Complaints Handling Standards).
2 An upheld complaint is an expression of customer dissatisfaction substantiated after investigation.