Back when Co-operative Energy was just the second-most complained about utility company, I wrote:
If the IT meltdown, poor security, numerous errors, poor service and tin ear to customers aren’t enough to put you off The Co-operative Energy, not to mention the paucity of interest in these issues shown by those running to be directors of Midcounties Co-operative, who own it, [the complaints figures are] another reason.
But now, things have got even worse as the figures for complaints to the Ombudsman in the third quarter of 2015 show:
1st quarter 2015: 4th most complained about utility company
2nd quarter 2015: 2nd most complained about utility company
3rd quarter 2015: 1st most complained about utility company
Aside from the numerous failings detailed in the links above, the comments made to the press each time about how ‘we’re on top of things and just about to fix our IT’ have kept on being over-statements of reality.
Back in June, for example, Coop Energy told the Daily Telegraph:
“The new industry-leading Oracle system, which is the first of its kind to launch in the UK, will enable us to provide our customers with an improved service and better customer experience. However, despite our best efforts, one part of it, the customer online account portal, hasn’t work as well as we would have liked.
“We recognised the problems straight away and to help customers we set up a dedicated freephone help line for people with online account issues, where customers are guided through the registration process and any further issues they experience are escalated and solved as quickly as possible.
“We can confirm that most of the issues surrounding the portal have now been resolved and over 100,000 customers have now successfully set-up online access.”
Now five months on the story for the BBC is:
“We have made significant progress to resolve a number of technical issues which ultimately related to the introduction of a new IT system. We will continue to make further improvements to ensure our customers receive the high level of service they expect and deserve.”
The long-running sage of ‘thing are going great at fixing our problems and we’re nearly there’ reinforce the pictured painted in my earlier posts about Coop Energy of a firm with a senior management that hasn’t really got a grip on what’s going on.
On that score, alas, the results of the elections to its parent, the Midcounties Co-operative is far from good. As I wrote when the elections for the Midcounties directors were underway:
I was looking forward to the elections for directors of Midcounties Co-operative (under which Coop Energy falls) and the chance to ask the candidates about the rolling IT, customer service and management disasters at their utility offspring.
Yet none of the 11 director candidates have provided any contact details in their manifestos. If you’re used to seeing manifestos from such member organisations, you’ll also know that this is pretty unusual. It’s rare for everyone to give contact details but almost always many, even most, do.
Not only is the absence of any contact details rare, it’s also pretty odd given the (hoped for) ethos of a co-operative to say ‘vote for us but we don’t want to speak to you’.
Not to mention a little frustrating that the one who writes “I have experience of each area of the Society with particular understanding of Co-operative Energy, our second largest trading division in terms of contribution” also therefore appears to be immune from any unhappy Co-operative Energy customers asking questions about whether that therefore makes them particularly well or ill suited to being a director.
Though at least they mention Coop Energy. The rest – despite the crisis it has plunged into and despite it being such as large part of the co-operative family – give it no mention at all save for one other bland mention as if it’s all a good thing doing fine.
Perhaps there’s a really odd rule which means it’s not the candidates themselves who are responsible for this enforced embargo. But very odd and hardly an advertisement for democracy in a co-operative.
In the end Midcounties agreed, after some chasing by me, to forward an email with some questions to all the candidates. Alongside me tracking down contact details for some of them directly, that resulted in just five of the eleven candidates replying to me. The majority did not. Of the five who were elected, three were amongst those who had replied to me and two were not.
Not exactly an inspiring picture of actual and would-be directors who really believe in a cooperative ethos where members matter.
Nor an outcome that holds out much hope for change and getting to grips with Cooperative Energy given that every incumbent standing for re-election was elected, with just one of the five being a new face.
There is one gleam of hope however:
The firm could be banned from recruiting new customers if it fails to resolve its broken billing system, warned Ofgem. The energy regulator said it is “aware” of the problems and is in discussions with Co-op Energy.
Perhaps that might finally make the Midcounties team of directors wake up to what is really happening on their watch and how their actions so far have been too little, too late, all laced in far too much complacency.