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British Gas launches first ‘video chat’ for energy customers in the UK

10 February 2012
11:33

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Research shows 50 per cent of people are using video calling to speak to their friends and families1. More than 66 per cent of customers believe that being able to see a customer service agent will help resolve their queries more quickly. British Gas is the first energy company in the UK to offer its customers use video chat technology

British Gas customers are set to be the first in the UK to benefit from online face-to-face customer service.

A pilot scheme by the country’s largest energy provider will allow customers to see the customer service adviser they are dealing with, from the comfort of their own home via internet-enabled video calling.

British Gas has introduced the pilot scheme following independent research, which showed that 66 per cent of customers believe that being able to see a customer service agent will help resolve their queries more quickly.

Ian Peters, Managing Director, British Gas Energy, said:

“We know that household budgets are stretched and that customers want clear and simple help to make sure they are getting the best deal.  We’re testing the use of video chat with our customers, offering them new ways to talk to us about the energy they are buying, their energy use and help with energy efficiency to keep bills down.

“We hope that our online face-to-face pilot will not only make our support and advice as transparent as possible, but will also allow us to add an even more personal touch to the service we offer our customers.”

The initial trial will last for three months, and video chat will be offered to some customers who have questions about their bill, need tariff information or would like to resolve complaints.

The pilot initially involves 20 customer service agents, based in British Gas’ Leeds and Southampton contact centres, who have volunteered for specialist training to take part in the cutting-edge trial.

The new video chat trial has been welcomed by Dr Peter Collett, psychologist and former don at the Department of Experimental Psychology at Oxford University, who commented:

“Psychological studies have long shown the importance of communication through body language and seeing the whites of the eyes of the person you’re speaking to. Hand gestures and facial expressions are so important and build rapport, relationship and mutual understanding within the context of otherwise transactional conversations.

“It’s great that British Gas is leading the way to rebuild trust in the energy sector by using technology to explain things to customers in an innovative and transparent way.” 

The new pilot is part of British Gas’ Honest Conversation with its customers, which includes a commitment to being simple, transparent and fair in all its dealings with customers, and which has already seen the company streamline tariff types (to just two) and improve the information on customers’ bills with a full breakdown of costs – including British Gas’ profits.

ENDS

Notes for editors

Video calling process

Customers who are on the British Gas website www.britishgas.co.uk, our energy experts will offer a video chat to the customer. This is the how the video chat call works

  • The energy expert will send an email to the customer with a link to click on.
  • Once the customer clicks on the link, they will see the energy expert and the video chat will begin.
  • Like video over internet calls, the customer can select to be seen by the energy expert.
  • The customer will need to have the sound card and camera enabled on their computer to see and hear the energy expert.
  • Customers who would like to request a video chat, subject to availability can email to videochat@britishgas.co.uk

 

Complaints handling

As part of the trial, British Gas customer relations team will offer a customer the chance to resolve the issue via video chat.

  • The complaints handler will send an email with a link for the customer to click on.
  • Alternatively, the customer can arrange an appointment time.
  • Once customer clicks on the link, they will see the energy expert and the video chat will begin.
  • Like video over internet calls, the customer can select to be seen by the energy expert.
  • The customer will need to have the sound card and camera enabled on their computer to see and hear the energy expert
  • Customers who would like to request a video chat, subject to availability can email to videochat@britishgas.co.uk

 

The research

Research by British Gas has shown that customers are very positive about video chat, as evolving technologies have driven more interaction by phone and online and deprived customers of talking face to face with a real person. 

The independent research was conducted by Populus amongst 2,193 people from 20-23 January 2012. The research showed:

  • 50 per cent of people are using video calling to speak to their friends and families
  • 66 per cent of customers believe that being able to see the customer service agent they are speaking to would help to resolve their queries more quickly
  • 85 per cent of people agree that increased use of technology means that they have less face-to-face contact with organisations
  • 49 per cent of consumers feel that the main limitation of telephone conversations is not being able to fully communicate their point
  • 41 per cent of consumers would like an element of face-to-face contact with the organisations with which they normally communicate by telephone or email
  • There are fewer over-65 year olds than 18-24 year olds currently using video-calling technology (48% versus 61%)
  • But over 65’s are more likely to use video-calling with call centres if it was offered to them, than 18-24 year olds (66% versus 51%) suggesting a willingness by older people to embrace the technology more widely
  • More men than women would use video-calling to speak to a customer call centre (55% versus 43%)

 Dr Peter Collett

Peter is a psychologist and a former Oxford don.  For many years he was a member of staff at the Department of Experimental Psychology at Oxford University, where he taught and did research.  His research interests have covered a broad range of topics, including body language, culture, management style and television audiences. 

Peter has made numerous appearances on TV – in various documentaries, on News at Ten, Newsnight and This Morning. He was a resident psychologist on Big Brother for the first four series. 

His books include Gestures: Their Origins and Distribution (with Desmond Morris), Driving Passion: The Psychology of the Car (with Peter Marsh) and Social Psychology at Work (edited with Adrian Furnham).  Peter is the author of Foreign Bodies: A Guide to European Mannerisms. His latest book is The Book of Tells: How To Read People’s Minds From Their Actions, which has been published in ten countries so far. 

During the 2006 general election Peter presented What They’re Really Thinking, a programme about the revealing mannerisms of British politicians, which attracted more viewers than any other programme about the election on Channel 4. His analysis of the relationship between Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness formed the basis of The Honeymooners, which was shown on BBC Northern Ireland.

Peter is widely acknowledged to be a world expert on body language. 

Media contact:

British Gas press office – 0800 10 77 015
 


[1] The independent research was conducted by Populus amongst 2,193 people from 20-23 January 2012. The research showed:

  • 50 per cent of people are using video calling to speak to their friends and families[1]
  • 66 per cent of customers believe that being able to see the customer service agent they are speaking to would help to resolve their queries more quickly

 

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