Reasons to avoid The Co-operative Energy
- Awful customer service
- Official figures rate Co-op Energy one of the very worst firms for complaints
- Major management problems
- Poor security
Details on what’s wrong at Co-op Energy
I’m well disposed to being a customer of cooperatives and mutuals and still often are. But Co-operative Energy? Oh dear.
A look at the large numbers of disgruntled customers over on Money Saving Expert (for example here) is a good warning sign. And it’s not a case of an online forum just attracting the most unhappy and negative people because systematic surveying of customers has shown Co-operative Energy plummeting from one of the best to worst energy companies as this story from June illustrates:
Co-op Energy was a customer service darling last December, with 63% of its customers rating it great and just 7% rating it poor. But in a staggering turnaround, just six months later over half of its customers (56%) rate its service as poor and just 22% rate it great.
The basic explanation Co-op Energy gives in the face of the various negative stories in the media (such as Billing bungles: is Co-op Energy the new npower? and I’m running out of energy trying to deal with Co-operative’s ‘teething problems’) is that ‘we introduced a new IT system; it went wrong but we’re working hard to fix things’.
If that were the whole story, it would be tempting to think that new IT systems can go wrong for anyone and anyway are a one-off mistake, so that shouldn’t be too much to hold against them when deciding in future whether or not to be a customer of theirs.
But there are two reasons why that’s being far too generous to Co-operative Energy.
Management problems at Co-operative Energy
First, it’s not only the IT at fault, it’s also the senior management. The IT might be fixed but as long as the same people who have made mistakes are in place, the future outlook is much rockier.
It’s not only that they failed so spectacularly to manage the introduction of a major new IT system. It’s also that all the way through the resulting customer service disaster (on which see here), Co-operative Energy continued to dish out left, right and centre woefully inaccurate promises about response times and sorting things.
Even when it was clear they had an overloaded phone system, long delays on answering emails and a complaints team way behind on dealing with complaints, Co-op Energy continued to pump out messages promising response times and actions which kept on being missed.
When you know you’re not dealing with emails on time, you really shouldn’t carry on emailing customers telling them that you are going to deal with theirs on time.
And through all this C-ooperative Energy also continued to push out marketing messages encouraging yet more people to become customers even though Co-operative Energy knew they weren’t able to properly look after their existing customs – the sort of dash for growth at the expense of existing customers which should be anathema to a cooperative that really puts its members first.
(Update: the picture is actually worse than the one I painted in this section. It’s not only the management that is flawed. The member-elected directors have a rather complacent attitude towards the problems that leaves an awful lot to be desired.)
The Co-operative Energy’s security problems
Second, the new IT system itself has a serious security issue. As one customer puts it:
They will email your password to you in plain text. I understand that not everyone works in software development like I do, so I’ll explain why this is bad. Firstly, email is not a secure transmission method. Anyone can intercept your email, read your password and log in to your account. From here they can get all your information, change your details, disconnect your service…
Secondly, passwords for systems such as this should be hashed and salted (and optionally encrypted, which I would recommend for an application like this). This means that the system you use never actually stores your password but rather the result of running your password through an algorithm (when you try and log in it runs the password you entered through the same algorithm to see if the result is the same. Crucially it’s one way, so it’s trivial to get the hash from the password but near impossible to get the password from the hash). This way, if they get hacked the attackers don’t simply see your password. By sending the password in plain text through email I can guarantee that they are storing their passwords in plain text in their system. This is, literally, the first thing you learn about system security. It’s school level (not even college or university). I know some of you may brush this off, but I cannot overemphasise how terrible this practice is and how it points to the overall level of care put in to their systems development, or lack thereof. (or have a look at this http://i.imgur.com/1JnwySW.png for further indication of how little care they put in)
To make matters worse, I used the forgot password link. A few days(!) later I was sent a new password. Again, in plain text. This email had been forwarded by a customer services agent to me, which meant that they had access to the password, in plain text (i.e. they could read it). Again, this is so far removed from best practice it’s not even funny.
I also had my password sent to me in plain text, but have now changed it. I am in IT and could not quite believe it.
So even if you’re looking for a mutual energy supplier, there’s one very clear and strong conclusion: stay clear of Co-operative Energy. Whether it’s customer service, keeping your details secure or managing things well, they’re a disaster.
Update: here’s a sample of recent customer experiences from Twitter.
Update 2: there’s now a Facebook group for unhappy Co-operative Energy (ex-)customers.