/ Home & Energy

Are we opening the door to a new type of salesperson?

The big six energy providers (British Gas, EDF Energy, Eon, Npower, SSE and Scottish Power) have now all stopped doorstep selling. But they might be back in your home via a different route…

Face-to-face sales are a fruitful way for energy companies to get new customers. But they have been tainted with reports of mis-selling and pressure selling. For example in May 2011, SSE was found guilty of ‘engaging in two counts of misleading commercial practice’.

Salespeople were found to have used misleading scripts claiming to have information showing that households were paying too much with their current supplier, when in fact they had no such information. Hundreds of thousands of consumers were affected.

Changing energy sales tactics

Which? backed Consumer Focus’ call for a doorstep selling moratorium and all of the big six have now said they will end the practice. Although Which? is not against doorstep sales per se, the fact that consumers generally don’t like them, and the widespread mis-selling in this sector, means that we’d like to see much more robust rules and checks in place before any company considered selling through this route again.

The EnergySure code of practice is currently used by the big six as a way of self-regulating their sales activity, but it clearly isn’t very effective. If a salesperson breaks the code it is struck off, but there’s no real penalty for the company.

But there has been some indication that doorstep sales may be back. Eon, the last of the big six to announced an end to the practice, said it’d stop ‘unsolicited’ doorstep selling. Does that mean it will continue ‘solicited’ doorstep selling? Is the latter more acceptable?

Since face-to-face sales is a powerful channel for energy suppliers to get new customers, we are led to believe that some energy companies might be trying to go back into people’s homes. But the tone is supposed to be different: no cold calling, only by appointment. And with an emphasis on helping you to save energy – meaning they could be encouraging people to take up schemes that give them subsidised or free energy efficiency measures rather than selling new products and services.

Do we need face-to-face sales?

Some people think that face-to-face sales are OK, as long as they are invited. It can work in certain circumstances, such as for people who might not have access to the web or who prefer to discuss their situation in person.

In a previous Conversation on doorstep selling, Wavechange said:

‘This is one of the reasons why all unsolicited home visits should be banned. It makes more sense to invite reps into the home if you are interested in a product or service. In the case of vulnerable people, arrangements could be made for someone else to be present during the meeting.’

But Frugal Ways disagrees that doorstep is ever acceptable:

‘Research by OFGEM, Consumer Focus and Which? points overwhelmingly towards a dissatisfaction with doorstep selling. Energy companies have a disgraceful record on doorstep selling, over many years. Redress for consumers disadvantaged by doorstep miss selling have been almost non-existent and action, if ever, has been a long drawn out process.’

A Which? Convo poll in 2011 showed that a large majority of people don’t want door-to-door sales. But does this new route offer a way for energy companies to redeem themselves on the subject of face-to-face sales? After all, the salespeople will only come to your house by appointment, and they’ll be focusing on energy efficiency – an area where you could heavily benefit from, for instance, subsidised insulation.

Will you, or have you, welcomed these salespeople inside, or will you keep your door firmly closed to energy salespeople – appointment or no appointment?

Comments

It is nearly 30 years since I let a salesperson into my home and I now have a range of convincing reasons to politely send them on their way. I want to do a bit of homework and get recommendations before inviting anyone into my home.

With energy salespeople I explain that I have used price comparison websites, albeit not admitting that I’m overdue to review my supplier.

I totally disapprove of door-to-door cold calling to sell something as vital and expensive as energy, especially since every tariff is bound up with a myriad of tortuous qualifications and conditions, thresholds, exit penalties, and so on, which require time and concentration to comprehend. Moreover I’m never terribly convinced of the sincerity of an energy company that says it will subsidise something that means I shall buy less of their product. However. I dislike even more the current practice of telephoning in the evening to try to persuade me to switch on the pretext that they’d really like to have me back as customer. I have only ever switched in response to bad treatment; why on earth do they think I would want to deal with them again?

Doug Knox says:
16 August 2012

All energy and utlity Tariffs ought to be freely and widely published.
Un published tariffs should be unenforceable in a court of law.
Customers ought to be capable of making their own comparisons.
The industry cost of their vast preditory sales forces, can be removerd from our bills.
Pigs might fly?
Regards,
Doug Knox.