Over 1 million people came back to BT last year…..

There’s a new trend in utility ads these days. Today I’ve seen both British Gas and British Telecom on the TV flogging ‘welcome back, return to us, we’re not such bad guys’ type of advertising. It follows what happened in the USA about five or six years ago when the big incumbent providers decided to hit the fight back.

The argument always focuses on service rather than price, and tends to have ‘customers’ saying “the connection was bad”, “what about safety?”, and “someone you can trust” type phrases. These are powerful ads and many people fall for the hype.

It’s very clever. I’m a great believer in the ‘they’re all crap at times’ philosophy which means all companies do some good and some bad when it comes to customer service. I can’t tell you the number of times people have e-mailed me to say “a few weeks ago you were saying Acme was the top MoneySaving provider of widget services, but let me tell you about my experience”. After listing a catalogue of disasters the person’s call at the end is often “please warn all your readers, and please stop telling people about that company!”

Then the very next e-mail is “I can’t thank you enough for telling me about Acme, it’s saved me so much money and been an absolute revelation, thank you so much.”

And this is the point. Companies do have differing service levels, but as a whole none are perfect. It’s one of the reasons my focus is price. Providing they generally do the job, then if the price is the best, they’re the MoneySaving recommendation. Of course if it’s awful service and unworkable, then it’s wiped off the list, but I only remember that happening once (it was Gio Internet).

So when I see these ads I think, how clever. Target anyone who’s had bad service anywhere else, and try and get them to come back to you on the pretence of being a trusted brand that they remember fondly when of course it doesn’t mean that a). the problems wouldn’t have happened anyway b). their customer service is any better c). there aren’t many other companies, barring the pants one you tried, who could do it better.

So my call to you is simple. If you’ve switched your current utility provider and you think they’re pants, of course feel free to shift elsewhere, but don’t go back to these big boys unless the price justifies it. Try another new provider. Many work extremely well. Don’t overspend due to the fear factor.