British Gas "incredibly naive" to hold Twitter Q&A on price hike day

British Gas was "incredibly naïve" to engage with customers on Twitter on the day it raised prices when it had failed to explain the move beforehand, it has been claimed.

British Gas: Standing by its decision to hold the Twitter Q&A session
British Gas: Standing by its decision to hold the Twitter Q&A session

A Twitter Q&A session held by the company as it raised prices by an average 9.2 per cent backfired spectacularly yesterday as customers used the medium to vent their anger.  

Questions included: "How hard is it to sleep at night with Cameron’s foot on your head, and the stench of dead pensioners in your nostrils?"

Threepipe co-founder Jim Hawker said: "It was clearly done with good intentions, but British Gas was incredibly naïve.

"The timing was terrible, in that you’re giving customers the chance to vent their anger and it is very difficult to have a balanced conversation. It is a highly emotionally charged subject, especially on such a critical day."

Social media is overseen by the digital marketing team and the Q&A, hosted by customer service director Bert Pijls, was one of a number of regular #askBG sessions.

The session gained widespread media coverage and We Are Social claimed that 10,000 Twitter users tweeted using #askBG.

British Gas stood by its decision to hold the Q&A. A spokesperson said: "We know people are worried about rising energy prices and they want to talk about this – including on Twitter – and it’s important we’re there for them to talk to. 

"That’s why we offered a Q&A session with our customer services director. It was the right thing to do because we want to be open and transparent with our customers at all times. We also want to make clear rising prices don’t have to mean rising bills and there is help available."

The anger comes with the political spotlight on rising energy prices; last month Labour leader Ed Miliband promised a 20-month price freeze if he is elected. 

David Cameron branded British Gas' price hike "disappointing" and urged customers to switch supplier for the best deal.

Hawker added: "British Gas needed to do a lot more in terms of having a controlled message in a controlled environment to help get that message across. There are arguments to be put forwards to show the reasons behind the price rise, and those could be put across in the form of video content, or getting its CEO to do media briefings. Using such an open platform at that time was a mistake."

Capella PR founder Gareth Thomas agreed, stating: "There needs to be a longer term plan thought out around explaining the price rises. This was the wrong time on the wrong channel and now British Gas does not just seem greedy, it also seems incompetent."

SSE, another Big Six energy company, was accused of being "out of touch" by Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith when it raised its prices by an average of 8.2 per cent last week.

It was claimed last weekend that more than 50,000 energy consumers had switched their suppliers as a result of the move.

But Thomas claimed SSE's decision to launch the latest round of price rises could have been a wise one.

"The energy companies have been holding back on price rises, but all know they’ve got to do it at some point," he said.

"SSE made a brave decision, and might be right to think just now that people won’t remember the first of these prices rises - they’ll remember the last, and the most calamitous."

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