Pure Planet – energy by app.

Lots of things these days are app-based so it was no great surprise when Pure Planet (PP) came along and offered an energy account where you could allegedly do everything you needed to do using an app. For any queries and general Help, the app provides a virtual assistant called ‘WattBot’. What follows is my own experience after deciding to switch my dual fuel supplier from First Utility to PP.

The deal seemed good. It consisted of a single tariff for 100% green energy which was cheaper than other deals at the time and it also offered a £25 Amazon voucher for signing up. Yay!

It wasn’t too long in to the switching process that I had questions. Like most virtual assistants, Wattbot didn’t turn out to offer much assistance at all and I found myself yearning for the days of being stuck in a telephone queue, wanting to strangle the person who chose the On Hold music and waiting to speak with a person whose accent I could barely understand. I never thought I’d say that!

Most Support systems these days will notify you via email when your ‘ticket’ has been updated so that you can log in and check what has been said. It was just unfortunate that PP forgot to send such an email on one occasion and things became chaotic as I had no idea they had replied. In general use since then, it can take a while to get a response. This means that if your question isn’t answered at the first attempt and you need to post further queries, a single conversation can take days to complete. It could be sorted out much quicker with a single phone call, even if you have to gather moss waiting in a queueing system.

As I hadn’t received an update to my query at the time – or at least I hadn’t received notification that they had replied – I made the mistake of signing out of the app completely and restarting it, thinking that it might force an update to my ticket thread. Bad move, bad bad move. I discovered that signing out was different to just swiping the app off-screen to get shot of it. When I tried to sign in to the app again it treated me as if I were a brand new customer and setting the account up for the first time. Part of this process involves getting an ‘activation’ email from PP and these were painfully slow to arrive. Sending it by asthmatic pigeon would have been quicker. As a result I couldn’t login to the app again, couldn’t access the Help thread and was therefore stuck.

I spent ages trying to login to the app again but every attempt seemed to require another activation email to be sent and none of them were being received. There was no helpline to call, no Support email advertised and my patience was wearing thin. I resolved that should I ever get logged in to the app again, my first action would be to tap the ‘Cancel Switch’ button and stay with First Utility. After some hours gnashing my remaining teeth, I suddenly managed to log in to the app. Whoop whoop! I then tapped the ‘Cancel Switch’ button and felt pretty good about it to be honest.

In the 30 minutes or so that followed, there was a sudden flurry of emails and I then got a call from them – an actual human. To be fair he was very apologetic and understood my frustration at spending the best part of a day trying to get their technology to work properly. He explained to me the difference between swiping the app off-screen and signing out from it. Fair enough. As for the arthritic tortoise-like speed in delivering the activation emails, he claimed that these sometimes took longer to send through certain ISPs. I’ve been in IT for over 30 years and I’ve never heard of such a thing to be honest. I had used both ISP and Web hosted email accounts during this process. I regularly get senior moments and forget passwords on my home PC. Most weeks I have to get 3rd parties to send password reset emails, reactivation emails, special prayers etc. and I have never had a problem with delivery of those.

In any event, he kindly offered me a second £25 Amazon voucher for my troubles and persuaded me not to cancel the switch.

Things trundled on and before Xmas I got an email asking me to submit my initial meter readings via the app. It sounded simple enough. As part of the submission process, I was given the opportunity to take photos of my meters, just in case there was a problem understanding where my numerical figures had come from. Each time I took a photo, the app told me to tap the Next button when I was satisfied with the image I’d captured – but there was no Next button available. The only visible option at the time was to tap ‘Back’ which returned me right back to the start of the submission process. Hmm.

In the end I opted to skip sending the photos and to just provide the numerical readings. Some days later I had another email asking for readings and when I enquired, it seemed that my initial readings had not been recorded on their system. I provided them again via email and eventually they got registered OK. When I finally got an email informing me that the switch was complete, it was immediately followed by another email telling me that their prices had gone up and another request for meter readings.

Since then I have had to submit ‘normal’ readings (I skipped the photography again) and when I received my first PDF bill I discovered that one of those readings hadn’t been used and an estimate had been made instead. By now I’d discovered that by starting my WetButt (sic) question with the words ‘Message team’, I could bypass the annoying little assistant and have my question sent to humans. I asked for a correct bill and received one a couple of days later.

I may have simply been unlucky; perhaps I should have bought the lucky heather that a gypsy offered me in the High Street in 1979. All I can say is that this app-based method of support and communication promised much but hasn’t really delivered it thus far.

The chap on the phone told me that the app has had to come a long way in a short space of time. I can understand that but it does leave me worrying when the next cock-up is going to happen. I’ll let it roll for a while and see how it goes.