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Sticking up for good customer service and value

By Jessica Lennard Friday 05 December 2014

The other day, one of the people who works here at OVO produced a chart that made us very proud. It plots customer service against price. An expensive company with poor customer service would be in the bottom left hand corner. A cheap company with excellent customer service would be in the top right box. Forget for a moment about whether it’s an energy company, a telecoms company or a food and drink company. Any sensible retail business wants to be in that top right hand corner. This year, despite more than tripling in customer numbers, OVO has been consistently cheaper than our main competitors and – thanks to votes from our fantastic customers - topped all the major customer service polls, including uSwitch and MoneySavingExpert.

Although we’re thrilled with the successes we’ve had, it’s a massive challenge and it certainly hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Unlike the Big Six who inherited all their customers during the privatisation of the energy industry, all our customers are switchers. We know if we don’t work hard enough to deserve their business, they’ll vote with their feet – and quite right too! 

So we think a lot about that top right hand corner and how to stay there, especially when we’re growing so fast. Many companies don’t set out to be there – it’s either ‘no frills, cheap and cheerful’, or ‘pay more for a luxury service’. A recent Daily Telegraph article suggested that the only way to be competitive on price was to sacrifice good service. But that’s not the sort of company OVO set out to be; and making sure that’s not what we become is a top priority for us.

We think it works like this…

Combining low prices with good customer service depends on innovation and efficiency. Partly, it’s about technology: building IT systems, customer apps, websites and other engagement tools that make it simple, easy and fun for customers to understand and manage their energy accounts. If people can do things automatically or easily online rather than phoning up, our costs come down and we can offer lower prices. A lot of the things we’re trying are new or haven’t been done before, and unfortunately sometimes we don’t get it right first time. But overall, we know it’s key to great value and happy customers. 

Identifying and recruiting the best possible people is also crucial, particular our call centre staff. Time and time again, call centres are identified as a source of frustration for energy customers: ‘It took forever to answer the phone’; ‘The call centre is in India’; ‘They put me through to someone else’. So we invest in smart people and give them the power to solve customers’ problems ‘first time’. Again, happier customers, lower costs. 

Finally, we’re firmly committed to always offering the best price we can, but – importantly - making sure this is broadly reflective of the real cost of doing business, because that’s how customers can trust us that they’re getting a fair deal. We respond quickly to changes in wholesale prices of electricity and gas, passing on savings to our customers whenever we can. We don’t offer super cheap, short-term tariffs which are only available to new customers. And we don’t charge higher prices to customers who’ve been with us longer, just because we think they won’t bother switching away from us. 

We can’t promise we’ll get everything right all the time. But we can promise that we’re not taking our eye off that top right hand corner. It’s where we set out to be, it’s what our customers deserve and it’s where we’ll work hard to stay.