One of the metrics we use to calculate our ratings for energy companies is using their score on 3rd party review sites. (99% of the time this is there review profile on Trustpilot, although occasionally there may be another site they prefer to collect their reviews on.) These review platforms are great, as on the face of it they are unbiased reviews, from real life customers. What more could you need to make a decision to switch to that company? If they have 10,000 great reviews, you won’t have any issues right?
Firstly, Trustpilot review profiles (and other review site profiles) are not worthless. In fact, they are a great way of getting an overall consensus of the general feeling towards a company from its customers. The reason we use Trustpilot as an important part of our metrics is because the insights are valuable and generally very telling. If you find a company has mostly had very negative reviews, especially if these haven’t been addressed with replies, then it is normally a warning sign to stay away.
Saying this, aggregated review sites do have their limitations:
A big issue is that although anyone can leave a review on the site, often the page is filled with reviewers that have been invited to write a review. Companies are not allowed to incentivise these customers to write positive reviews, but they can be selective with who they choose. This means that they may choose to deliberately not invite customers that have made complaints to the company, been overcharged or made it clear they are not happy either via phone, chat or email.
You will also find that companies invite customers to leave reviews very early on in the process e.g. just after they have successfully switched. If this is the case, customers are likely to be happy that their switch has gone through successfully and not had many opportunities to face issues with billing or customer support.
There is no way of you knowing if this is the case, but Trustpilot does tell you if a review has been invited to leave a review by showing a ‘Verified order’ icon next to their review.
Another limitation of review sites is their ability to display the reasons why people have left a bad or good review. The best categorisation you can is the star rating which isn’t that useful, unless you choose to read all the one-star reviews to try and summarise yourself why people are unhappy. Some people will leave a bad review because the price has increased (quite common in this industry!) despite being on a variable tariff and still being on one of the cheapest on the market. Others will be happy with everything but leave a 3-star review just because nothing exceptional happened to them. On the flipside of this, some customers will leave a positive review simply because they liked the website! Or as mentioned above, they’ve been a customer for 5 minutes and nothing bad has happened yet.
You will also find often that the issue causing a bad review is the customers fault and there isn’t much the company can do about it!
A smaller issue, although I think this is something that we all struggle with, the overall number of reviews (if positive) is often seen as signifying the company is a better choice. By this, I mean if two energy companies have an overall rating of 9.4 but one has 1,000 reviews and the other 10,000, you are drawn to going with the one which has the most. The number of reviews a company has isn’t really important. More reviews could mean the company has more customers, or it could mean they choose to invite their customers to write reviews whilst another company doesn’t. It could also mean they have been around longer or that reviews are more prominent in their marketing, so people are more likely to write one.
Finally, review sites don’t tell you the whole story. The reason we only use them as part of our metrics in rating companies is because there is more to understanding if an energy company is right for you than just one review source. Even just comparing two sources of customer reviews will often lead to differing results. For example, comparing the Which? customer survey and the Trustpilot ranking in the ‘Electric Power’ category give you vastly different views.
Review site by themselves also don’t show you the data on the likelihood of your switch taking place on time, the overall clarity and accuracy of your bills or the number of complaints the company has face in the last few months. You are also unlikely to find out if a company is part of the Warm Home Discount, part of the Energy Switch Guarantee or has recently been bought by a larger, less attractive business from reading reviews.
All in all, reviews on sites like Trustpilot are certainly worth consulting before switching energy providers. They do have their limitations however and it is important you read other more round reviews (like on energy-review.co.uk) before making your decision on who to switch to.