Energy suppliers still putting customer service on hold

New Which? research has revealed how energy suppliers fare when it comes to answering calls from customers, with the longest average wait a shocking 30 minutes.

In our latest mystery shopping investigation we called 16 suppliers’ customer service lines 12 times at set times of the day to find out how long customers were left on hold. We also did the same for suppliers’ sales lines.

We were left waiting on hold, on average, between 30 seconds with Ebico to 30 minutes by Scottish Power before we got through to someone in the customer services department.

None of the Big Six suppliers managed to answer the phone in two minutes, but npower came closest at two minutes 26 seconds, a massive improvement on the company’s performance in last year’s survey.

ScottishPower is under threat from the regulator Ofgem and must reduce average call waiting times to two minutes by the end of January or face a sales ban. Our investigation found Scottish Power customers waiting the longest at 30minutes on average to get through to customer services. This is in stark contrast to calls to their sales team which answered calls in less than a minute (49 seconds) on average. In fact we also found that 11 out of the 16 suppliers we called answered their sales lines quicker than the lines used by existing customers.

Energy consumers have previously told us that they are fed up with waiting, with three in ten (31%) saying that being left on hold for long periods before speaking to someone is one of their biggest bugbears when calling their energy provider’s customer service.

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said:

“It’s unacceptable that some energy suppliers expect their customers to wait on the phone for so long just to ask a question, give meter readings or complain. With average waiting times of up to half an hour, it is clear some suppliers need to do more for their customers.

“Our research shows only a quarter of us trust our gas and electricity supplier which is why we need major reforms to Fix the Big Six. Suppliers must act rapidly to improve basic standards in customer service and not wait for the outcome of the competition inquiry.”

Notes to editors:

1.    An embargoed copy of the Which? magazine article including a full table of customer service waiting times and companies can be found here

2.    We made 384 calls to energy suppliers in October 2014. We called each energy supplier’s customer service number 12 times at set times of the day and recorded the time how long it took between finishing dialling the customer service number to getting through to an adviser and then calculated an average waiting time for each company. We also did the same for their sales numbers.  A full table of June 2013’s customer service waiting times and companies can be found here.

3.    Bug bears survey: In March 2013 we asked 896 GB adults what their biggest bugbear was when calling energy suppliers’ customer service.  We found 39% said it was when the phone number wasn’t a Freephone number, 31% said it was having to wait a long time on hold before speaking to someone, 26% said going through an automated system before speaking to someone and 22% said automated messages being played while they were waiting such as “your call is important to us”.

4.    The reasons why people call energy companies’ customer service departments include: questions about price tariffs, bill queries, submitting a meter reading and moving house.

5.    In Which?’s biggest ever energy company satisfaction survey earlier this year, we asked more than 10,000 of the general public about their experiences and satisfaction with their energy suppliers.  Energy survey tables for 2014 can be found here.

6.       More information on Which? Consumer Insight research including customer trust in sectors can be found here. In November 2014, we found just 23% of people say they trust their gas and electricity supplier – only long term financial products (19%) and car dealers (9%) came lower.

7.    More details on our Fix the Big Six campaign can be found here.

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