/ 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
Member

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.

Member

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?

Member

Hello Wavechange and John Ward and thank you for your comments.

I’d like to get your views on a proposal please: what if the energy companies came to your house not uninvited by having made an appointment with you.
And what if they could not sign you up to anything on the day in your house but would have to get authorisation from you to call you a few days later to conclude any deal.

Would this change your view at all? Would it make doorstep sales more acceptable?

Member

Though I happily spend a lot of time meeting individuals and small groups, I feel worried and insecure when meeting those selling products and services. It’s probably because I know that they are on commission and what advice they give me might be in their best interest, not mine.

Last year, I had a call from my bank and we arranged a meeting. I was happy with having the meeting and then being able to go away and think about the suggestions made at the meeting.

More recently, I made an appointment to discuss buying a car. I was happy that the salesman let me drive and compare a couple of models and that he was able to answer most of my questions. I was not happy that he tried to push me to buy a whole variety of extras (that no doubt would give him extra commission) and then tried to get me to sign up to make a purchase that day. I said that I would go away and think about it and compare prices with other dealers. He eventually got the sale, but on my terms. It was horrible, embarrassing, and I’ve decided to do my own research and buy online in future.

I am not sure that I would want to meet up with anyone from an energy company if all that’s under discussion is energy tariffs. I can compare figures and either make a phone call or send an email if I have any queries. Others might find it very helpful, and I am very much in favour of a cooling off period, as with distance selling.

Thanks for asking, Sylvia.

Member

Thanks Sylvia

I share wavechange’s views in general. My attitude would depend on how the invitation arose. If an energy company cold-called me by phone I would be most unlikely to respond favourably to a request for an appointment or to spontaneously invite them to meet us. However, if I had taken the initative and telephoned an energy company to discuss tariffs or switching I might be more well-disposed to a meeting at home. I would make it clear that there would be no obligation or commitment, that nothing would be signed on the day, and that we would have the right to change our minds within a cooling-off period if we did say yes to something. I would certainly do quite a bit of homework before any meeting, especially to make sure I was completely up to date with our current consumption, tariffs, notice periods, exit terms, etc. and try to find out as much as possible in advance about the alternative company’s current prices, T&C’s, lead-in tariff, tariff adjustment history, and so on.

Having recently signed up to the Cooperative Energy under the Which? Big Switch, [1] it would not be in our interests to switch again before the guaranteed fixed price period is through, and [2] unless something completely adverse and unforeseen occurs with regards to the Cooperative Energy’s very appealing conduct and policies, I am determined to stay with them for as far ahead as I can see and no other company will get a look in.

I am wary about companies using energy-saving deals or offers as a Trojan horse to pressure-sell tariff-switching or supplier-switching or other products or services. I am old enough to have experienced many of the previous home-selling campaigns – vacuum cleaners, central heating, wall-to-wall carpeting, patios, double glazing, conservatories, roof-cleaning,etc – so my mind has powerful resistors built in and a high-strength immunity system. I don’t suppose the techniques have changed very much, just the products, as now its energy saving or micro-generation that get the hard sell.

I hope this digression by the energy companies [under the guise of the EnergySure CoP] into testing the reaction of consumers to different forms of face-to-face selling is not a crafty distraction from tackling what really needs to be done about un-comparable tarifs, complexity of T&C’s, introductory offers, lock-in terms and exit penalties. As I intimated previously, I think energy is too important and complex to be treated like washing powder where you can switch brands with minimal consequences.

Member
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.