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Are businesses doing enough to regain your trust?

Word 'trust'

Over the last 12 months trust in business across the board has been in the media spotlight more than ever. Here’s our chief exec Peter Vicary-Smith on how important it is for businesses to regain your trust.

Businesses are learning the hard way that the reputation of their brand can be badly damaged if consumer trust is compromised. Trust, once lost, is extremely difficult to regain.

Which?, as the largest consumer organisation in Europe with more than 800,000 members, is well placed and committed to showcase the very best of business to consumers, and to explore what more companies can do to address the concerns of their customers.

Earning your trust

We track consumer trust across a wide range of sectors and have seen first hand how large scale scandals, systemic mis-selling and customer service failures in the financial services, energy and food sectors have critically undermined consumer trust. For example, our polling consistently shows that only two in ten now trust energy companies to act in their best interest.

But we continue to believe that those companies that do manage to successfully differentiate their brands — that articulate clearly what’s special about what they deliver for customers — can take a leadership position, earn trust and gain a significant competitive advantage.

Standing apart from the rest

Of course, standing apart from the rest requires strong leadership and a commitment to putting customers first every time. It might not insulate businesses from every external crisis, but recovery is much faster if you’ve earned trust in the first place.

We are delighted to be working with the CBI, bringing together the leading voices for business and consumers in the UK, and I’m pleased to be on the steering group for the Great Business Debate.

Through our research, insight and campaigns, Which? reflects the views of real consumers. As a not-for-profit social enterprise, and funded solely by the profits from our successful commercial ventures, we are able to share our experiences of how putting the consumer at the heart of a successful business is vital for that business to prosper in the long term.

We want to see good businesses come forward and talk about what they want to do to re-engage consumers. We want to see a broader discussion of the role of business in society, in line with increasing consumer expectations. And we want to see this campaign taking an important role in aligning businesses’ objectives with that consumer demand.

This article was first published on the GreatBusinessDebate.co.uk hosted by the CBI.


The first contact many customers will have with a company is via their customer services.

When I have a problem, I want to speak to a person in this country who speaks proper English.

Too many companies let foreign call centres fob off customers with their lack of product knowledge and sticking to the scripts they have been given. It is like banging your head against a brick wall as it is almost impossible to have a proper conversation with most of them and even more impossible to get a resolution to your problem.

When there is a problem, let the problem be escalated to one person to deal with. There is nothing worse than having to speak to a different person every time you call, having to explain yourself again and again, getting a different response every time.

Too many customer services have little knowledge of the products they are being asked about. Give them training or pass the customer on to someone who can help them.

Another head banger is being kept in a queue when you phone a company.

Why can’t all companies tell you where you are in the queue so you can phone them back later when they are busy? A few do, and a customer is much better tempered if they haven’t been kept waiting for ages.

This not only benefits the customer, but also the employees who would not have to put up with so many irate customers.

As it is the time of year when the Energy Co’s carry out their annual financial assessments I decided to check my online fixed price account until March 2015 with Scottish Power. I was very surprised to see I am £493.42 in credit. At the same time last year (2013) I was £126.46 in credit and have constantly remained in credit over the whole year since then. I received an online communication from them in July this year informing me that they had decided to keep my monthly payments the same throughout the fixed price period based on their assessment of my usage. However as I am locked into a fixed price agreement and threatened with a £50 dual fuel opt-out fine if I switch to another provider, I reckoned that it would pay me to do just that and still be £443.42 better off. I intend to contact Scottish Power tomorrow requesting a refund of £366.96 being the difference between last years and this years credit balance……..so wish me luck!!!

Is this their strategy to make up for their ‘fixed’ price offers by attempting to exploit unsuspecting customers who think they can trust these companies? They will have to come up with a reasonable offer in order to regain my trust however. As SP offer to call you back if lines are busy I hope this exonerates me from a request for a 50p charge to jump the queue! After all, and to quote ‘Tricky’ “I don’t approve of such tactics.”

There is no such thing as a fixed price as far as Scottish Power are concerned it seems as my
DD monthly online ‘fixed’ payments have just been increased by £18 per month to compensate for refunding my credit balance (I have yet to receive). They are effectively giving with one hand and taking back with the other. It is a lose lose situation for the consumer, even if you attempt to economise on your energy consumption they will change the rules and up your estimated payments to make sure your account stays in credit and they don’t lose out. My annual ‘fixed price’ bill has been increased from £1344.00 to £1560.00!!!

I was informed that the increase was based on “their estimate of my usage over the next 12 months.” I made the point after submitting up to date metre readings on 08/09/2014 I was £410.22 in credit so how could they justify an increase of £18 a month when I had a fixed price contract until March 2015. The fact that I was £126.46 in credit at the start of the autumn/winter period last year and stayed in credit during the whole year with a £410.22 surplus made not one iota of difference.

As long as they can get around the ‘fixed price pretence’ by way of inflated estimated charges I fail to see how consumers can ever receive a fair deal, but suffice to say Scottish Power will be losing another customer in the very near future, but I intend to wait until after receipt of my refund before switching.

If trust had value then they would capitalise on it. Reputation and trust promotes loyalty but we see most service businesses foreclose on loyalty as the cost of reputation and trust. Catch 22. Businesses seem more interested in improving trust relationships with investors.

Extended warranties seem to get passed on to a 3rd party who farm out repairs to some very dubious companies.

I think manufacturers should take some responsibility that recommended repairers are fit for purpose. They only need to google these companies to see how good or bad they are.

Yes, I sometimes think that “authorised” repairer is no more than a self-proclaimed calling card. Manufacturers reputation seem more a new sales tool rather than a service standard.

“Are businesses doing enough to regain your trust?” Not at all. Many seem to going out of their way to try an alienate me. So where to start.

Online supermarket shopping; if I buy an item at a price its cos I want to pay that price, not pay whatever they think it should be sold at on the day they deliver it.

Insurance companies; customer loyalty doesn’t exist. New customer deals should be available to all.

And the advertising words many use really do push the boundaries of the English language.

Unlimited usually ends up means limited. Fixed/ capped usually means variable. etc. And British, could mean any number of things.

Upto 75% off, means 1 item will be 75% off the rest more like 5-10% if that.

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading 2008 is a joke. and needs re-writing to do what it claims to do in the name. Ever wondered why your favourite supermarket rarely has a unit price on multi buys? Well that’s cos its excluded from the above law.

They’re all at it in one form or another.

I recently purchased a Bosch Tumble Dryer – and went on-line to register for the free 2-year warranty. I was asked for some information (including email address and phone number) and then there was a check-box asking me to confirm that I had read the Terms and Conditions. Right next there was a link to the Terms and Conditions and I followed it. The T&Cs were surprisingly short. Basically, they said that you gave them permission to pester you with emails and phone calls unless you checked 2 check-boxes on that page – if you said that you had read the T&Cs, but had not, you would not know that you were giving them such permission.
I think that is sneaky.