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Further to my recent theme about customer service, here’s another large brand struggling with its small data when communicating with its customers.

Energy is a hot topic in Australia at the moment – whether it’s the arguments over wind turbine health issues, leasing the poles and wires to private industry, or the rising costs due to climate change issues, it’s hard to avoid.

Amid the media noise, I received a letter from a General Manager, Sales and Marketing at Energy Australia. I wonder if she even knew about it, because I’m sure someone with such a senior role would have never written it?

I suspect it was curated by someone from the content marketing area of the business – or maybe it was one of those lawyer/copywriters who run marketing communications in most large companies?

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The purpose of the letter was to advise I would be paying new rates for domestic electricity from 1st July. Upon inspecting the rates in the letter, I discovered there are 5 separate charges for electricity:

  1. Daily Supply Charge
  2. Peak Usage
  3. Off Peak usage (if applicable)
  4. Shoulder usage (if applicable)
  5. Dedicated Circuit

In simple terms charges 1, 3 and 4 are increasing while charges 2 and 5 are decreasing. I have no idea how this effects my overall electricity cost – is it going up or down? Certainly the letter didn’t clarify anything.

Firstly the letter addressed me as “Dear Malcolm Ian“. Why would you address someone by their first and middle names? Looks like their small data has stuffed up. Though one suspects they would have approved data proofs beforehand?

Here’s the first sentence: “We’re writing to let you know your electricity prices will change from 1 July 2015.” I’m sorry, but who is the collective “we” who is writing? The letter is signed by Michelle Monaghan, not by a team. Shouldn’t it have said: “I’m writing to let you know…”

The first paragraph also stated “Your discount percentage and benefits haven’t changed“. Again I have no idea what this means, why not explain them?

The first subhead says: “What does this change mean for me?” Quite frankly, I don’t care two kilowatts what it means for Michelle who wrote the letter. I assume she meant to say “What does this change mean for you?

Sadly the 34 word sentence/paragraph beneath the subhead, didn’t mention a thing about what it means. It states most other retailers will be reviewing their prices – what has that to do with me? Then it says the review is driven by price changes from local distribution companies, wholesale energy and government green schemes, as well as changing retail prices.

What sort of price changes from which local distribution companies? What wholesale and government green schemes? Are these wholesalers and government greenies in cahoots? Are they causing the increase or the decrease in the prices? And isn’t Energy Australia the retailer? So what are their changing retail costs?

This reeks of obfuscation, deceit and plain “stuff you customer“. Surely a big utility like Energy Australia has a spine? Why can’t they explain the truth rather than hide behind weasel words?

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But they do have a sense of humour. The final subhead said “We’re here to help.” I cracked up when I read that. The next sentence said “we know price changes can be difficult, so we’re here to help as much as we can.”

Here’s a tip for you content curators at Energy Oz – start by writing the truth in plain English in your letters, then it wouldn’t be so difficult for the customer. You’d be amazed at how your customers really appreciate the truth instead of circumlocutious corporate conniptions.

But what I find even more fascinating is why utilities, telcos and banks all try to force you to get your bills by email instead of the regular mail. Yet when it comes to officially covering their corporate butts, they always mail you a letter – never an email. Go figure?

I’m off to write a letter to Energy Oz, just in case their BIG DATA tracking software misses this mention of their customer service. And to find out if my changing energy charges are going to cost me more or less, because despite their letter, I still haven’t a clue…