Last month, The Customer Service Blog reported on an embarrassing gaffe by the energy company Ovo, who had given their customers ridiculous and insulting energy saving advice, such as 'doing a few star jumps' and 'cuddling pets'.
But it seems that Ovo are not the only energy company who are far removed from the realities of the everyday life of their customers. In a new energy supplier gaffe, E.On (the UK's second biggest energy supplier) has been forced to apologise for sending socks to customers in a bid to encourage them to turn the heating down!! This is an appallingly crass and insensitive marketing gimmick, at a time when customers are facing a massive cost of living crisis, driven by a massive jump in energy prices.
The forthcoming energy price cap looks likely to add around £600 to the annual gas and electricity bill of a typical household.
So what has E.On done wrong?
The company sent the socks to 30,000 customers who responded to an energy-saving campaign last year. The socks were sent by E.On Next - an arm of the company which sells and promotes renewable electricity. They came with a message encouraging people to leave "lighter footprints" by turning heating down and lowering carbon emissions.
However, many customers have reacted with anger - especially when they were sent to elderly relatives who are facing a massive hike in bills.
E.On later posted a message on Twitter saying: "If you recently received a pair of socks from us, we would like to say we are incredibly sorry for how we have made some people feel. In light of the seriousness of current challenges that many people are facing, this mailing should have been stopped and we are sorry."
In a subsequent statement, a spokesperson for E.On said: "This activity was in no way designed to detract from the seriousness of the current energy crisis. This campaign originally went ahead last year and was intended as a fun way to encourage people to think about 'lightening your carbon footprint' and isn't meant to be anything to do with the current challenges many people are facing."
The View of The Customer Service Blog
This latest customer service gaffe by an energy company came on the same day that a group of charities called on the government to take urgent action to tackle the energy price crisis. The 25 charities, including Age UK, End Fuel Poverty Coalition, Save the Children, WWF, Green Alliance and Greenpeace, have said that emergency funding is needed to support the most vulnerable members of society.
But what does this marketing gaffe tell us about the energy companies themselves, and the people who work for them? According to Darren Bugg, the Editor of The Customer Service Blog, this type of insensitive marketing campaign is typical of big companies that become out-of-touch with their customers.
He said: “I’ve worked in marketing for over three decades, and in that time I’ve seen numerous embarrassing and downright insulting marketing campaigns that have been dreamt-up by highly paid yuppie marketing professionals who are sat smugly in flashy London office blocks.”
“These marketing executives are usually very intelligent young graduates that have gone straight from the ivory towers of university life into cushy roles with massive blue-chip corporations. They know nothing about the ordinary lives of ordinary customers, and so they are incapable of understanding what the typical customer is really experiencing and thinking.”
“Posting out free socks as a marketing gimmick to vulnerable and poor customers might sound clever. But it is a downright stupid idea. It sounds like something that was conceived around the boardroom table of a London skyscraper by highly-educated yuppies who are ‘high’ on too much organic espresso, or whatever 'powdered substance' takes their fancy. And this is not meant as a joke!”
“Marketing and good customer service should always go hand-in-hand - they are inextricably linked. To be successful in business, you MUST fully understand and empathise with your customers. Unfortunately many of the yuppies who work in marketing and customer service roles for big corporations are entirely removed from the real world of their customers.”
© 2022 Darren Bugg