Liaising with utility companies involves a whole new skill set. Get this wrong, and you’ll get seriously frustrated, to the point of slamming down phones and blaming individuals there for causing this. It’s important to dig a bit deeper though to look at the system and how it unfortunately just doesn’t help, and to take the personal factor out of it.

The pressure is on to get prices down, so all the utility providers like npower, Swalec, Eon, Scottish Power are all competing to get the lowest price and best customer service. They don’t necessarily supply your power, so you can be on the south coast having physical electricity cabled by a-another to your home or business, while agreeing to go with a northern-based and branded supplier to deal with your account and charges.

So whatever supplier your account ends up with, here’s 3 tips I’ve learnt the hard way to help wade through the system:

1. Gauge the person you’re speaking to at the company straight away and tailor everything accordingly (and with respect). They’re a real person, and looking from their perspective have to go through system-notes and listen to us before coming up-to-speed on the issue and helping with. See how they tick, try and throw in some humour to help jog things along, treat them well, even if you have to bite your lip when they come out with something totally ‘wrong’. Worst case scenario, which I have had to do, is politely finish the call and simply re-call and hope for someone else who can help further.

2. Make sure you understand the common sense answer to the ‘stats’ in your own mind before you call. Often this is just what you think is owed, and make sure it’s simple. So add up what you think you’ve paid, what you think might be owed, and keep referring to this in the query. The unit rates or standing charges may say you own another £100 but if you’ve paid way too much every month so far for a say a small flat, it simply doesn’t make sense (a common problem is assuming assumed meter reads rather than actual ones).

3. Get everything clarified in writing after you understands the basics. So always make a note of what you discuss, even if just a hand written note on a utility bill, or maybe offer to send an email back to the person at the company. Also, make use of email communication, and ask then to email invoices or statements or account summaries there-and-then so you can go through it straight away while it’s still fresh in your mind.