Media release

Customer service, second most common issue in complaints


7 January 2019

Customer service matters! It makes a difference to your day, and not just during the holiday season. “As customers, buying any product or service, we sometimes need guidance and support. If things go wrong we want responses, and we want solutions,” says Utilities Disputes Commissioner, Nanette Moreau. 
Energy companies are working to improve their customer experience, but things do go wrong. "Poor customer service is the second most common issue raised with our free and independent complaints service."

Ms Moreau says a lot of complaints could be avoided with better communication and information. “Customers want to receive clear and accurate information. They want their questions answered, their complaint acknowledged, and they sometimes want to talk on a phone to a real person!”

Interestingly, 50% of all customer service complaints to Utilities Disputes in 2018 were about how the complaint itself was handled or not handled; 27% are about the information provided; and 18% are about attitude.
“If people have a concern, they want to be listened to and treated fairly. When complaints are recognised early and responded to helpfully, everyone wins,” says Ms Moreau, adding that answering the phone matters.

Since 2001, every year about 6,000 New Zealanders have been bringing their energy complaints or enquiries to Utilities Disputes. Issues with power bills – such as sudden high bills, back bills, confusing or inaccurate bills – are the most common complaint, followed by customer service, disconnection, meter and supply issues. 
“People have the right to complain to their company and to bring their unresolved issues to Utilities Disputes. We can investigate their complaint or guide them in the right direction,” says Ms Moreau. “We can have a close look at, for example, whether the bill is accurate, the information provided is adequate, and the customer service reasonable.”

“The energy market is much more complicated now – with so many competing companies and different plans people can get confused. If customers can be kept up with changes and understand what they’re signing up to, they can make more informed choices from the beginning.”
Importantly, as soon as a complaint has been acknowledged, customers should be told about Utilities Disputes. “Our service is free and independent. We look at each complaint and consider the facts, the law, and what is fair and reasonable. We are here to help.” 
Customer service complaint examples: Case notes can be found on our website here.
Case number: 68645
After household appliances were damaged due to insufficient electricity supply, the distributor provided incorrect information; and the customer sought a $3,000 engineer’s report to obtain correct information. The customer wasn’t told about Utilities Disputes. The complaint was upheld, and the customer compensated for damaged appliances ($9,793.53) and poor customer service ($5,036.77 including the cost of the engineers report). 
Case number: 32984
Mrs A called her energy company 10 times over five months about not receiving a bill. The bills had been sent to the wrong address, and – as the address was incorrectly recorded on the registry - her meter couldn’t be read remotely. Mrs A was eventually sent a back bill of $1,697.72. The Commissioner upheld the complaint and the bill was reduced bill by 40%.
Case number: 70568
After a disconnection, the Commissioner recommended the retailer waive the disconnection fee and pay the customer $500. The bills were correct, but the customer service was poor because the company didn’t provide enough information about changes in rates, didn’t recognise the complaint, and disconnected without a valid notice.

Case number:72286
Mr L arranged for a contractor to trim trees around a power pole and complained the company’s lack of communication caused a delay, which cost $2,000 over the original tree quote. The Commissioner found the communication about the trees was adequate, but Mr L was not informed about Utilities Disputes – he was instead referred to the Disputes Tribunal, and later to Utilities Disputes. Mr L was compensated $250.

Case number:68748
Mr A asked a distributor to connect electricity to his house, but the distributor didn’t log the request. A month later, Mr A asked again and received a quote. He asked questions about the quote the distributor didn’t respond, and the quote expired. When Mr A asked for another quote, the cost had risen by $4,000. The Commissioner found the distributor had provided poor customer service and was responsible for the delay. The Commissioner recommended the distributor pay $1,978. 
Media contact: