Meeting Customer Expectations Through Better Service

  • Robyn McDonald
Consumer Affairs

Tauranga

Ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to be here today to launch Trustpower's new contract.

Back in January, I released a major report which challenged the electricity industry.

My Consumer Affairs Ministry produced an analysis of contract, metering and disputes procedures.

I gave a strong message that I wanted power companies to take action improving their performance in customer relations and service.

That is, meeting customers expectations through providing better service.

Quite frankly, I was appalled at some of the draconian and authoritarian approaches taken by some in the industry towards their most important client - the customer!

So today I welcome this new contract, produced in consultation with the community, by Trustpower.

We have already had Southpower and Waitaki Power released new contracts.

Trustpower is the third company to respond with a contract which reflects the provisions of the Ministry's report.

Trustpower has acknowledged with this revised contract that their rating in our report was not acceptable.

The new contract is a significant improvement on the previous one.

A pleasing feature of this contract is its plain English style. A factor I know will be welcomed by all customers!

It will also ensure customers can understand and know about their rights.

An evaluation of Trustpower's contract against our key areas in the Ministry's report, shows considerable improvement and an acknowledgment of the importance of customers rights.

In my view, too many companies seem to think they can separate out customer service from company performance.

That is nonsense! The two are essential and must work hand in hand.

The industry in the past, has all too readily separated out these two areas, through, in my view, a narrow perspective promoted by a monopoly environment.

Like my colleague, the Minister of Energy, Max Bradford, I am very keen to see domestic consumers enjoy choice and greater competition among electricity suppliers.

For with greater choice and competition, we see vast improvements on the levels of service and the products available to consumers.

My role, as Consumer Affairs Minister is to be a strong advocate for consumers, that involves ensuring that business plays its part.

In looking at this new contract, I was particularly pleased to see the company is complying with the Consumer Guarantees Act and has recognised their obligations under it.

For Trustpower customers this means that your company will now pay fair compensation not limited to a maximum amount and including consequential loss.

This is a huge improvement on the previous contract.

I was also pleased to see that Trustpower will pay for the losses from inaccurate metering if a customer has acted in good faith.

The company will also undertake to use reasonable care and skill in providing customer's with an accurate bill.

Trustpower will now consult customers on changes to their contract.

This process will involve giving customer's 30 days to comment on new terms and conditions and 30 days notice of the proposed changes.

When I released the report, one issue I raised was for companies to consider their treatment of the Bond.

Trustpower will now pay interest on bonds, put the money in a Trust account, and not charge additional bonds if disconnected.

I welcome this addition to Trustpower's contract.

Trustpower will now specify a clear disputes process in their contract.

As with any performance assessment, we need to also have assurance that its application will be monitored.

From 1 October 1997, Trustpower has committed to compensate customers if it fails to meet the performance standards set out in this contract.

I am also pleased to see that Trustpower is conducting trials involving new metering.

This is a welcome innovation for power customers with the potential to give them true control of their electricity usage and therefore their costs.

Through this, I believe Trustpower recognises the need to compete in the domestic market by providing customers better service and choice.

That is what should be at the fore front of any business philosophy.

I believe there are a considerable number of opportunities for the electricity industry to lift its overall performance.

And essentially, that means keeping in touch with your customers and knowing their expectations.

And looking for points of difference for when competition does arrive for domestic electricity consumers.

Congratulations on this new contract and I know that Trustpower will build on it to continue to create an improved consumer service meeting customers expectations.v