July 20 2009 by Ellen Roseman
I’ve written about Direct Energy’s practice of automatic renewal of gas contracts. Finally, after much nagging, I think I’m getting somewhere on behalf of frustrated customers whose relationship with this company has been extended without their express consent.
DE spokeswoman Lisa Dornan told me that changes are coming to the renewal packages sent in the mail.
We are continually looking at our renewal process to make the necessary improvements to communicate clearly with our customers about their options at the end of their contract term.
Some of the recent changes have included the addition of a â€œFrequently Asked Questionsâ€ section in the package, and upcoming changes include:
* â€œIMPORTANT RENEWAL INFORMATION ENCLOSEDâ€ message on outer envelope â€“ coming in August.
* Underlining the â€œRenewing this Contractâ€ section on the terms and conditions page (first enclosed page in the renewal package) â€“ effective Sept. 1.
* The addition of “PLEASE TURN OVER FOR MORE IMPORTANT RENEWAL INFORMATION!” in bold, underlined font on the front of the renewal package letter â€“ coming in August.
* Ongoing testing of follow-up options to the renewal package as a reminder to customers of their need to contact us if they do not wish to renew.
We have made, and continue to make, efforts to clarify the communication as much as possible. And weâ€™re taking customer feedback seriously as we seek to improve the customer experience.
All this is good news, though I’d quibble with her statement that DE takes customer feedback seriously. If it did, these changes would have been introduced years ago. There was no reason for the company to drag its feet for so long.
So why now? I think the yawning gap between utility prices and Direct Energy’s one-year price for auto-renewals (up to triple the regulated price) has finally made people realize what’s going on. And they’re fighting mad.
Direct Energy makes it really hard for customers to cancel. Now it’s still hiding the cancellation instructions on the back of its renewal letter. But it’s adding a bold print message on the front, telling people to turn it over.
I guess that’s progress.