UK energy suppliers are providing such a poor online customer sales experience that they're missing out on thousands of potential new customers, according to a new report that measures how easy it is to buy an energy tariff online from the "Big Seven" suppliers. The report comes from Global Reviews, the leading specialists in benchmarking major brand websites.
Service falling halfway short
In what is the most advanced online customer experience study ever conducted across UK gas and electricity providers, a score of 100 percent means a brand is providing the 'perfect online journey' one that is very easy and effective in getting people what they need.
Overall, the "Big Seven" energy suppliers average just 50 percent. SSE provides the best online customer experience (53 percent) followed by Npower and EDF, both achieve 51 percent. Scottish Power is the poorest performer (39 percent). See Chart 1.
The Energy industry performs below that of a recent comparative study on the home (58 percent) and motor insurance (51 percent) industries; Aviva led in home (67 percent) whilst LV= did in motor (65 percent) insurance. The scores are calculated from four key tests; a set of practical tasks, an attitudinal survey and an audit of the site's features all done by prospective customers and an audit by experts.
Consumers extremely unlikely to recommend sites
Only six percent of potential customers would recommend energy suppliers' websites, whilst 64 percent would actively discourage friends or colleagues from visiting giving the "Big Seven" an overall negative Web Promoter Score* of -58%. This is nearly twice as bad as the home insurance industry (-30%) and significantly worse than motor insurance (-38%). EDF achieves the highest score, albeit still a negative one, of -35% whilst Scottish Power has the lowest (-85%) Web Promoter Score.
"The "Big Seven" suppliers are barely halfway there in terms of providing the ideal online experience for potential customers "If only 1 in 17 visitors recommend your sites but 2 in every 3 actively discourage others to visit, that's clearly a problem," says Rebecca Jennings, principal consultant, Global Reviews.
However, other than frustration, the real impact on consumers of the poor service provided online is that it handicaps them in finding the cheapest or most beneficial tariffs. In an age of rising prices this can have severe consequences, particularly those facing fuel poverty during the winter. Although they have a choice over which energy provider to use, they are simply not being given the adequate tools to help them exercise that choice fairly.
Least effective at crucial "why buy from us" stage
Global Reviews' report measures six stages of a customers' online journey from the first encounter with the website, to researching products and completing the application form.
Energy suppliers do best at the final stage, the application form (58 percent) although only 44 percent successfully complete the form. EDF has the highest application form success rate (66 percent), whilst Scottish Power has the lowest (16 percent). The industry scores lowest at the crucial "why buy from us" stage (25 percent).
Jennings explains, "It's surprising how many sites fail to supply prospective customers with basic "why us" information as to why they should chose their brand over competitors. This is especially important in such intangibles as energy and insurance where consumers cannot differentiate between the qualities of the products at this stage.
"Simple information such as external awards, consumer opinions or press articles all help reassure consumers that they are making the right choice but, currently, most sites fail to promote any of them."
However, energy suppliers do score well in their site search functionality (63 percent). This features in the "introducing products" stage that measures how easy it is to find energy products. Both British Gas and Npower score 100 percent whilst Scottish Power score zero as they don't provide search functionality.
E.ON leads in green energy information
One of the areas the energy suppliers are most effective at is providing information about "green" energy products (53 percent), although they don't score so well in showing how much they cost (37 percent).
Scottish Power (63 percent) leads at providing green energy information whilst First Utility is the worst (35 percent). E.ON is the clear leader at providing green prices (50 percent) but EDF is the least effective (26 percent) surprising, given its significant focus on green energy around its London 2012 Olympics sponsorship. See Chart 2.
Jennings sums up, "Although some energy suppliers perform well in some areas of the customer journey, not a single one is maintaining a consistent experience from their homepage through to online applications. Many sites do badly in helping customers find and compare products; quotes are given without much supporting information; few make any attempt to convince customers why they should chose their brand, furthermore, completing applications is difficult.
The good news is there's huge room for improvement. With the intense and growing competition in the UK energy market, the supplier who gets it right is liable to reap considerable rewards."