A powerful message

pylonsHaving experienced nPower’s chaotic billing and even worse customer service, my first reaction to the news headline that they have been fined £26 million for bad billing and service was a quiet smile coupled with the thought “and about time too!”  However, on reflection, I am less sure. Where will that £26 million fall? On the owners of the business or on the customers?  I think I can guess! So what is the point of a massive fine if it is simply shared out among the customers, some of whom have had rotten service and some of whom have not?

If the publicity hits their share price it might force the company to sharpen up its act but nPower is a subsidiary of a German company so the impact may be less obvious.  I think a stronger threat is needed that challenges their right to continue trading. What really puzzles me is the lamentable quality of their billing systems and their customer responsiveness. They are selling two products, gas and electricity through supply systems maintained by other companies and metered to a high degree of accuracy. What is so difficult about this? If Amazon, Tesco, Sainsburys, M&S and countless others can sell thousands of product lines, what is so difficult about selling gas and electricity and billing for it accurately and regularly?

I suspect what we have is a business that has grown by acquisitions over the years with incompatible computer systems that will not talk to one another and a failure to invest in better and integrated systems. If not that, they must be employing moronic individuals who cannot cope with elementary arithmetic and customer service skills but I rather suspect it is the former.

About Keith R Mitchell CBE

Qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1967. Pursued a successful career in financial training and publishing until selling his interests in 1990. Elected a County Councillor for the Bloxham Division in 1989. Leader of Oxfordshire County Council 5 November 2001 to 15 May 2012. Chairman of the South East England Regional Planning Committee July 2002 to July 2005. Chairman of the South East England Regional Assembly July 2005 to July 2008. In HM the Queen’s 2007 Birthday Honours, appointed a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in recognition of services to local government.
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