My Origin story

How do you take a perfectly happy customer, and turn them into an anti-evangelist for your company? Hint: It doesn't require radioactive spiders, cosmic rays or labaoratory explosions.

Origin Energy are an electricity provider, the largest in Australia by customer base. When I bought a house last year, I contacted them to connect my electricity because I was aware of the company as a local option with decent pricing.

For months, I was a content customer paying my bills and otherwise having no dealings at all with the company. Exactly what you want from a commodity service provider.

Then towards the end of last year, I received a phone call from a number I didn’t recognise. Picking it up, I heard an obviously recorded voice starting midway through a sentence, making it quite hard to understand the message.

It was Origin, wanting to talk to me about some offer or other, that I had no interest in, so I ignored it. Origin did not give up so easily though, and I continue to receive robocalls most days, always the same content from the same number.

If I called the number back, it was a different recording about how they wanted to talk to me about something. Infuriating! I'm sure that if I sat through their whole pitch I'd eventually talk to a person and then be able to convince them to take me off their list.

I didn't want to go through that, so I just hung up the phone or ignored the number for weeks. Eventually, I complained to their twitter account. They asked for my mobile number so they could arrange to stop the calls.

When I gave them the number, the calls did stop, for a while, but then started up again. Soon after that, I switched to another provider, purely because I was annoyed by their intrusive marketing.

The final piece of communication I received from Origin (after I'd submitted a change of supplier form with the new supplier) was a letter which was carefully written to suggest (without outright saying) I had to call Origin to confirm the switch.

This was not true; the form I'd submitted was all I needed to do, they were presumably trying to give their retention team a chance to change my mind. It was never going to happen.

If I had to guess at the reason these programs of robocalling exist, I'd say that Origin can measure how many calls they make, and how many of those calls result in customers paying more or staying longer.

But they can't measure how many customers are having their tolerance worn away bit by bit, and who will therefore take the first opportunity to leave.

If they'd just left me alone, I'd still be paying them today. Instead, I'm writing this post about them and another company is getting my money.

Lessons from Origin

  1. Don't treat your customers like a machine that you can find new ways to squeeze, irritate or trick money out of. Respect their time and attention.
  2. You should ask for permission to market to people even when you don't legally have to.
  3. Think carefully about what you measure (and what you can't measure) because you might be causing affects you aren't seeing.