British Gas: abusing customer trust in pursuit of profit?

Abusing customer trust is one of the fastest ways to lose years of hard-earned reputation capital but British Gas, part of FTSE100 listed Centrica plc, seems to be playing fast and loose in this respect. Every door-to-door salesman knows how much easier it is to sell once they have crossed the customer’s threshold. But few people trust them. How they must envy British Gas service engineers, who are never refused entry and enjoy high trust levels with the customers they visit. This is a point not lost on British Gas apparently, which a reliable source tells me is ramping up its drive to turn service engineers into disguised salesmen.

My source is a seasoned engineer whose work has been consistently recognised as excellent in customer service feedback. He likes to visit once, do a good job and leave the customer happy. But he’s worried about the direction British Gas is going, and he draws parallels with the kind of management behaviour that got many retail banks into trouble: incentives that reward staff for selling certain, highly profitable services and products that customers don’t really understand or necessarily need.

Already frustrated by the often inadequately short service visit time slots he has to adhere to in order to fill his daily productivity quota, he resents the fact that some of his pushier colleagues with lower scruples can effectively ‘buy’ extra time by selling instead of servicing. A few weeks ago he was invited to a troop-rallying management shindig designed to bolster what he described as the flagging morale of engineers following a wave of redundancies last year. The event was titled ‘Extraordinary You’. Our valiant engineer was understandably cynical after it soon became clear that management at the event didn’t seem to recognise his world as experienced daily on the front lines with customers.

Every company has to return a profit; how it does that needs careful management stewardship. I’ve written before about the crucial importance of trust and how it correlates strongly with reputation and long term success. That’s a fact that appears to be lost on British Gas – at least in the eyes of one, hard-working and ethical service engineer.

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