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I received a threatening letter last week. And to those of you expressing no surprise whatsoever because you were thinking of doing the same, I will say only this: bovvered?
This particular one came from my friendly supplier of electricity, NPower.
It alleged (having long since hit the bottom of the bin) that they had a statutory duty to inspect my meter at least once a year and to take a reading, and that I had been impeding that duty.
My failure to respond to previous messages by Royal Mail meant they would have to consider taking legal action to claim their rights, if I didn't ...blah blah get the picture.
As anyone who knows me well will testify, it doesn't take too much for me to go off on one, and indeed my first reaction was to scrawl a lot of counter-abuse across their form letter and mail it back to them (minus a stamp).
On mature (yes, I know) reflection, however, I decided that the old adage, "Revenge is a dish best tasted cold," would be better in this instance, if not as satisfying in the short term.
Now you're probably thinking this is all a bit of a fuss about nothing, and I'd be inclined to agree with you, were it not for the recent history of events with this supplier.
I think it is an admirable demonstration of how the bigger an organisation gets, the more unfit for purpose its systems and processes become, and its customer service suffers in direct proportion.


Let's put this in context. The reasons I am so hacked off at this latest bout of rudeness are threefold:
1. I had a similar letter three or four weeks ago, called the number given and (thought I'd) sorted it.
2. I assume they keep some form of customer records which should indicate that my meter is located outside the property: they don't need an appointment with me to come and inspect or read it. They can do so any old time they like.
3. Indeed, some 6-9 months ago someone purporting to represent them came and replaced it entirely (as they are also statutorily obliged to do every 'x' years apparently).

All this comes after they mixed up the readings on my house meter with one for a barn in the field next door (don't ask: this could be a newsletter in itself) and sent me a bill for £30,000, which it took hours, days of phone queuing ("Your call is important to us" - yeah, right) over a protracted period to sort out.

In any event, is communication by letter their only option? Other organisations seem to have figured out how to use the phone, e-mail and phone texts (even my local hairdresser, but they're not a multi-national of course) to get messages through effectively.

Now I grant you that I am a bolshy member of the anti-establishment and am unlikely to be phased by this uselessness, but many members of Joe Public would probably have been camping out at the Citizens Advice Bureau at half these shenanigans.

As a result of this, though, and on the already stated premise that revenge is a dish best tasted cold, am I more likely to:
a) Continue to pay by direct debit - thus cementing myself as one of their more reliable customers
b) Switch to an alternative supplier, once I've done my online research on where I'll get the better deal?

You already know the answer. Sloth may have prevented me from taking the action I should have taken ages ago, but one rude letter too many is just the trigger I need.

So what good do threatening letters really do? To the criminal or insouciant, they have no impact at all; to the honest lambs who have made a mistake and don't like trouble, they will frighten them into compliance but leave a nasty taste in the mouth; and to the educated middle classes (that's me, in case you're wondering), they'll cost them a slab of business.

No doubt there's some lawyer or bean counter somewhere justifying their existence and showing how effective they are, but my money's on a big negative effect in the medium to long term, which will never be ascribed to its real root causes.

I've banged on so often about the adverse effect that poor communications can have on a business's long-term reputation and profitability that you're probably bored already (if you've actually got this far), but at least that's one more thing off my chest.

David Croydon: 01844 238692 or e-mail

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David Croydon

Hilltop Consultancy
Business Advice Oxford, Oxfordshire