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Botched SAP billing system helps Npower reach No 1 on gripes list

Consumer advocates: 'Unacceptable... serious falings'

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Failure to fix problems with an SAP-based customer billing system has seen UK energy giant Npower earn the most complaints for a power supplier during 2013.

One in every 326 customers lodged a complaint against Npower, putting it top of a UK energy supplier league table released today by Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland.

Npower earned 10 times as many complaints as the least complained about supplier, SSE.

Complaints included late bills, bills going early, payments being stopped, new accounts and direct debits not being created.

“The consumer bodies are concerned that despite acknowledging over a year ago that its new billing system is causing problems for consumers there’s not been any improvement in complaint numbers,” the consumer advocates said in a statement.

Npower started to transfer its 5.4 million customers to a new billing system based on SAP in 2011 following completion of the first phase of a multi-million pound IT project to overhaul Npower's legacy, inhouse systems led by IBM Global Services UK and Ireland.

IBM GS ran systems integration, business change and implementation, the design and build of the SAP billing and customer system, and the build of a new contact centre telephony infrastructure that was to be integrated with the SAP system. IBM was also put in charge of training Npower staff.

The idea was for a system that improved customer experience by cutting times spent fixing problems.

The IT system was for use by customer service and sales teams and would handle administration, maintenance, billing and payment.

By December 2013, Npower admitted the wheels had fallen off the project and apologised. It claimed a fifth of its customers had been affected.

Director of customer services Gareth Pickles said Npower had committed an additional 800 staff to fixing the problem with a team “working hard to resolve, test and implement resolutions".

Complaints against Npower were on an unbroken upward trajectory through out the whole of 2013 right from January, according to the consumer groups, while complaints for the UK's other big six saw hovered relatively consistently. Only Scottish Power saw a noticeable spike in customer complaints, starting in October last year.

Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said in a statement: “It is s unacceptable that Npower has not yet sorted out the serious failings in its billing systems and customer service which are causing so many complaints and serious problems for its customers.”

Npower blamed “implementation and migration” problems, which it categorised as “on-going.”

In a statement to The Register, Npower claimed it was making “good progress” in dealing with the root causes but remained “totally committed" to resolving any problems these had created for customers. ®

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