It says a lot about business practice, quality of goods and service in the UK when the Government publishes a draft Consumer Bill of Rights which will boost the economy by £4 billion. And under European regulations, an EU Consumer Rights Directive must be implemented in the UK by December 2013.
These measures are aimed at enhancing consumer rights, making them easier to understand. And why is it needed? Apparently because consumers spend more than 59 million hours a year dealing with goods and services problems.
It also aims to clarify some of the murky rules surrounding buying goods and services for consumers and give businesses clearer information on what is expected of them when problems do arise.
Energy companies are one of the worst offenders when it comes to customer complaints. Consumer champion magazine Which? said complaints data collected by regulator Ofgem on the ‘big six’ energy suppliers for the first quarter of 2013 shows that EDF received the most complaints, mainly surrounding customer service, value and complaint handling.
In my own industry, the Renewable Energy Association received more than 1,000 complaints in 2012. The REA is responsible for governing the conduct of solar PV panel salespeople. Many of these resulted from pressure from reps to sign up, or being unable to cancel a contract within a cooling off period.
These so-called cowboy solar salespeople have given the industry a bad name in the last couple of years; telling potential customers that solar panels on a north-facing roof would give the return on investment, that their roofs didn’t need strengthening to take panels which were too heavy and that the Feed-in-Tariffs were guaranteed to remain at the same rate for the next decade and beyond.
This isn’t just poor service, this is blatant mis-selling which in some cases damaged people’s homes, or left them thousands of pounds out of pocket.
My company, working with installer 7 Energy, supplied the largest solar PV system in Shropshire, a £1.2m installation at a poultry farm which has slashed energy bills for the customer.
But what we did in that case, as we and other good reputable companies do, is make sure we have the quality product, that we’ve done the right research, investigated the most appropriate design of installation and that we’ve got the best installers on the job.
That way, poor service isn’t even on the horizon. Given a tweak, that ethos goes for a myriad of other industries too.
The draft Bill is a good idea, even if its essentially legislation for protecting consumers after the horse has bolted. The Government says businesses will benefit from it too, with many already going well beyond the minimum obligations set out in the draft proposals.
But wouldn’t it be refreshing if we didn’t need to have it? If good practice and good customer service was embedded into the UK business culture from the production line and the receptionist to the managing director and the chief executive?
I have no doubt that one of the reasons my company has seen such significant growth, despite the efforts of the cowboys to frighten consumers away from renewable energy options, is that we strive to offer both the best products and the best service, delivered by the best people.
It’s not rocket science. It’s the key to successful business and happy customers.