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Crappy customer service? Be banned from selling!

British energy regulator Ofgem is baring its sizeable teeth. The target of its wrath is ScottishPower, one of the nation’s ‘Big Six’ energy companies. The reason? Poor customer service.

Ofgem expects companies to compete keenly on service. Yet this is clearly not happening. Thanks to the large number of complaints Ofgem has received about ScottishPower (about sending bills notoriously late, for instance), it has decided to take the unusual step of preventing a supplier making an effort to attract new customers.

Unless, that is, ScottishPower can prove that it’s able to cope with the customers it already has. And the proof Ofgem wants is very specific: by the end of this month, ScottishPower must catch up on the backlog of actions on Ombudsman decisions for individual complaints. By the end of the year, the energy company must at least have halved the number of overdue bills. And by the end of January, it must have “significantly” improved the speed at which it answers customer calls.

Ofgem has given ScottishPower a three-month period to get its customer service act together. Otherwise: a stiff ban on sales and marketing activities to prospective customers.

Taking care of existing customers

Basically, the message is: “If you can’t manage to take care of the customers you’ve already got, we’re not going to let you advertise to new ones.” A novel solution to a customer service problem! Customers can only dream of having such powerful regulatory bodies in other industries. If they existed, customer service might be very different.

Take your own industry, for starters… Consider how your own business functions when it comes to customer service. If an imaginary Online Business Regulator came to check things over, what would your report card say? Are you putting more energy into attracting new customers than into looking after your existing ones? If an enquiry from a new customer takes preference over a query or complaint from someone who already spends money at your business, that’s a sign that you’ve got a problem.

It’s highly likely that you already have a detailed marketing plan in place. Now it’s time to put a detailed customer service plan in place too. Make a set of Ofgem-style deadlines to get all your outstanding customer service tasks up to date. Clear the backlog of queries so you can start the new year fresh. When customers want to give you money, you don’t hesitate. So make sure you respond in the same way when they come to you with questions or problems.

It can seem like modern businesses are in love with the thrill of the chase: they put most of their energy into winning you over as a customer. Then once you’re on board, they lose interest. Turn that around – it’s a sure way to make your company stand out.