NPOWER – WHEN DOES THE CUSTOMER STOP BEING STRATEGIC?
The news from Npower just keeps getting worse. Last week the company announced a series of job cuts and operational rationalisation. At the weekend the press reported that service levels were poor, even by utility industry standards. Then this week there was further bad news on the service front – serious issues with billing accuracy.
This comes on the back of a substantial price hike and an environment where our key gas/electricity providers are under fire from all stakeholders.
Number one for service?
When I read all the bad news about Npower I was a little surprised. My mind went back only a few years to a series of ads that the company placed, “No1 for Answering Calls”. At that time Npower promoted itself as the friend of the customer, really understanding what made the difference.
If you think about it, it was a smart move. If you are a gas or an electricity utility what is it you can do to make yourself more attractive to the paying public?
Well perhaps by finding a better/more efficient type of gas or electricity – but no-one’s managed that yet and the mind boggles thinking about how different sorts of gas or electricity could come down the same line or pipes!
Then there’s price – key for many commodity providers. But in this market where is competitive pricing? The big energy companies typically follow each other, up or down.
So that leaves service, surely a way of keeping customers loyal. What is service here? Efficient and empathetic call centres, speedy response to enquiries, accurate bills, the feeling that the company cares.
Npower seems to have recognised that it’s falling down on service. So what is it doing?
Is outsourcing the answer?
Well it’s not closing its UK call centres but outsourcing them to Capita, “the UK leader in business process management and outsourcing solutions”. To sort its poor back office service (accurate billing etc.) it’s taken the decision to offshore the activity altogether to India.
Well that’s fine. Or is it?
What sort of message does this send to Npower’s customers? Probably what it is – an attempt to reduce costs.
When a company is in trouble in terms of the service it provides the last thing it should do is walk away from direct responsibility for that service. Outsourcing call centres to Capita means that Npower phone operatives are likely to eventually service other Capita clients. How can they become passionate about Npower and deliver real service when it’s not their employer but rather another client?
And then there’s the offshoring to India. Does this really mean that Npower believes that we simply can’t do back office service here in the UK? If so then they should be starting a debate on our paucity of our service delivery skills. Better, they should be trying to fix the problem here in Npower’s heartland.
Which takes us back to the title of this blog. When are customers strategic, or should I say when is customer service strategic?
All too often service levels can be compromised in the name of short-term profits. At a time when the industry is so under fire from customers and politicians surely a bold statement by Npower saying we’ve got some service problems, we’re going to fix them ourselves and we’re going to fix them here is what the public actually wants.
So what should companies like Npower actually do?
- If there is a need to improve customer service, find out what customers actually want from the process. It’s unlikely they will vote for remote assistance.
- If service levels are poor because of onshore activity, then improve onshore and send a positive statement to customers.
- In a commodity industry, service has the power to be a positive differentiator. Customers need to be treated with empathy and respect…and that includes the solutions to poor service levels.
- Outsourcing shouldn’t be seen as service improving – it rarely is.
What do you think? Am I being unfair on npower and other utilities? Am I being over protectionist? Do you believe that offshoring to India is the solution to improving customer service levels? Let me know.