I have been a customer of Southern Electric for as long as I can remember and I can remember back to 1999 when I moved into this house. When the gas and electricity markets were deregulated I switched from British Gas to Southern Electric for my gas supply. Furthermore, I was so price insensitive that I did not even bother to sign-up for the dual fuel deals. And as far as I am aware Southern Electric did not give me any discounts for buying both gas and electricity from them.
So why is it that this year back in September I made the decision to move to E.on?
Some years ago I went all out and trusted Southern Electric completely. I gave them my bank details and gave them permission to make a monthly direct debit from my account. I trusted them to make the meter readings, figure out what my annual consumption was and then debit the right amount from my bank account. As the years went by I noticed the monthly direct debits going up slowly and that did not concern me. Then in 2010 they went up dramatically – doubled in fact – and that caught my attention.
Not comprehending how it was that the bills had doubled, not knowing when Southern Electric had lost done the meter readings, and suspecting that I was being taken for a ride on pricing I did my research and made the decision to switch to E.on as the comparison site showed I could cut down my costs by a third.
When Southern Electric found out then someone from their call centre rang me to incentivise me to stay. Her argument was that I was making a mistake, that the comparison websites could not be trusted and that Southern Electric prices were competitive. My argument was simple I do not trust you for three reasons. First, you have never moved me over to the dual fuel deal and given me the benefit of it. Second, from the paperwork I cannot see when you last did a meter reading. Third, you have almost doubled the monthly direct debits without any explanation.
As a part of the switchover process I did the meter readings and that resulted in Southern Electric repaying me £782.12 on my gas account and a further £327.75 on my electricity bill. If we take the gas repayment that represents over five months of direct debits.
Here is the interesting thing. Once I got these refunds and calculating my actually cost for gas and electricity I figured out that yes Southern Electric is price competitive with E.on. So Southern Electric has driven me into the arms of E.on by being greedy: by taking out more cash out of my bank then was necessary.
So the lesson is that you simply cannot take trust for granted. There is no higher level of trust then allowing you deduct the right amount from the bank account every month. When a customer gives you the permission to do that he is counting on you to:
- work out what is the right charge each month and deduct only that amount;
- show him how you came to your figures by showing tangible facts (last meter reading, recent meter reading, estimated usage, tariff etc); and
- explain and prepare him for the unexpected especially if it is likely to be unpleasant – like the doubling of the direct debits!
Two more things come to mind. First, it would have been better for Southern Electric to debit me less each month than I was consuming and then ask for the balance at the end of the year. Second, if I had seen Southern Electric acting in my interest by giving me the dual fuel deal even though I had not asked for it then I would have been more willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Why? Because I would have at least one memory where they showed that they had acted in best interests and in the process been willing to forgo short term profits for a longer term revenue stream.