Energy Giant Whistleblower- Sunday Mirror Newspaper- Exclusive News Feature- ***October 2013***

After the latest round of energy price hikes a former salesman at SSE came to us to blow the whistle on the company's sales practices.

We put the whistleblower in touch with the Sunday Mirror newspaper who launched a full investigation.

The story appeared across two pages in the newspaper. Scroll down to read the full article.

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Whistleblower reveals price-hiking SSE's 'white lies and brainwashing' sales secrets

Former salesman reveals the secret tricks of the energy giant’s call centre staff as bills for families rise again

Price-hiking energy giant SSE’s shocking behind-the-scenes ­attitude towards customers is today uncovered by a whistleblower who worked at one of its call centres.

The ex-employee claims the firm will “do whatever it takes” to maximise its gigantic profits.

He tells how staff are openly encouraged to avoid mentioning a money-saving Government-backed deal during calls.

The insider also handed the Sunday Mirror an SSE training manual featuring a list of words employees are told to use to “butter up” customers.

And he reveals how they are told to tell callers “little white lies” to help clinch a sale – and how they trick customers, routinely referred to by staff as “f****** idiots - into giving away unregistered phone numbers so they can cold call them.

Earlier this month the company unveiled an 8.2 per cent price rise for its 4.4million electricity customers and 2.9million gas users, despite announcing £1.41billion pre-tax profits in March.

The price hike sparked outrage - and led to the furious insider contacting us to reveal SSE’s secret tricks. He said: “The customer comes second. The shareholder is the most important person.

“I remember a group meeting where managers said it’s all to do with the shareholders. They need to make their money.”

The whistleblower said the four-week training programme he went through was an eye-opener from the start.

He said: “The teacher actually said to the class, ‘white lies don’t hurt anyone’. It’s all about getting that sale and growth.”

The insider claims call centre workers often pretend they have kids or pets in an attempt to find common ground with customers as they reel them in.

 

SSE logo - Scottish and Southern Electric
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“If a female phoned and you could hear a baby in the background, you’d say, ‘How old is your child?’ They’d say three and you'd say, ‘I’ve got a three-year-old as well’. We’d also hear a dog bark and ask what dog they had, then say we had the same.

“It’s brainwashing. It’s all about getting the sale. If you’ve got to tell the customer white lies, tell them. Some would be, ‘This is better than what you’re getting now’ or ‘You’re a valued customer and this will benefit you’ – when, in fact, it won’t.”

He said trainee call centre workers sitting in classes of 12 were advised to jot down words to use during calls.

“This is basically how to talk to the customer, how to explain things – and that if you speak in a certain way, you can pretty much sell anything,” he said.

“There are ‘green’ words like ‘valued’, ‘save’, ‘sustain’, ‘effective’. If you can use these certain words in a certain way, you will get the customer.”

He said other ‘green words’ used to trap callers include “popular”, “simple” and “affordable”. And then there were words staff were NOT encouraged to use – including “expensive” and “cheap”.

The whistleblower said they were also instructed to only offer the Government-backed Warm Home Discount scheme to fed-up customers if they threatened to leave SSE. The scheme sees some OAPs and poor households get £135 off their electricity bills.

The insider, who worked for SSE for seven months, claimed the discount was used to persuade customers to stay with the firm – even though many were entitled to it anyway.

“At SSE you were encouraged only to read out details about the scheme to make it sound like an offer if the customer wanted to move,” he said. “They use it to sweeten the customer up. It’s like, ‘Let’s have a look at your account, let’s see what we can do here’ – when you knew full well you could do it straight away.”

And he says there were even tricks for getting information customers may have withheld. The whistleblower told how, during his time at SSE, callers were asked to confirm contact details “for security reasons”, including their phone numbers.

But many did not have numbers registered, so staff typed them into their account after pretending they already had them. “Then we could call them back and try and sell them more,” said the insider.

 

He also claimed the company raked in extra profits by convincing customers to move from fixed price plans before their contracts were due to end so SSE would not have to pay promised cash incentives.

He said: “When SSE signed people up to one fixed tariff they were put on a plan of 12 payments to be taken out of the customer’s bank account over that year.

“The incentive was that one payment would then be given back at the end of the year. SSE write letters to customers on the deal before the end of the plan. Staff at the call centres would tell them it would be better to switch to another deal to avoid paying a higher tariff the next year.

“The problem is customers often have to pay more and face a standing charge. Also they do not get the cashback ­ 
promised to them.”

The training manual even gives staff at its centres in Cardiff, Berkshire, Perthshire and Hampshire – expected to answer 40 calls a day – instructions on how to finalise a deal.

It says: “Once you have asked a closing question, REMAIN SILENT! This is called The Silent Close. Even though the silence may last several seconds, don’t be tempted to start ‘gap-filling’ as you will likely start reselling or will use empty negative language.”

The whistleblower branded SSE’s tactics as “cynical,” adding: “It’s very cut-throat. The customers want to know the truth. They want to speak to someone who’s not been trained to speak in certain ways.”

Our source also exposed the culture in SSE’s call centres where staff turnover is said to be high because of stress. Customers are routinely referred to as “f****** idiots”.

“Everyone comes off the phone and says, ‘F******* idiot’. That’s really common. Staff would say it at least once a day,” said the whistleblower.

The sickening revelations follow energy firms’ criticism of Ed Miliband’s pledge to freeze fuel prices for 20 months if Labour wins the next election. Mr Miliband hopes to capitalise on public anger at the vast salaries and dividends paid to energy bosses and shareholders.

Six months ago, regulators fined SSE £10.5million for mis-selling gas and ­electricity. The firm, formerly known as Scottish and Southern Energy, is worth £13.3billion and gave its top three directors more than £6million in pay and perks last year, including £2.6million to chief ­executive Ian Marchant. He recently stepped down with a £10.4million pension pot and £4.8million in shares.

But the whistleblower reckons SSE managers couldn’t care less about the public outcry when the company unveiled huge profits. He heard one say: “Oh well, it’s a business. We’ve got to make money.”

The source also claimed managers laughed about customers struggling to pay their bills, adding: “They didn’t care whether old people couldn’t afford to put their heating on.”

A spokesman for the energy giant said: “SSE does not regard behaviour of the kind alleged as acceptable and is committed to the highest standards possible in providing customer service, backed up by our industry-leading Sales Guarantee and Customer Charter.”



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