A Which? investigation has revealed the worst energy firms for leaving customers hanging on the phone – with some subjecting callers to an average wait of almost half an hour.
The consumer champion made more than 450 phone calls in total to 38 gas and electricity suppliers and also tested live chat and email services – finding huge variations in how long customers were kept waiting to speak to a member of staff.
Spark Energy, which went bust last week, was the worst firm for call waiting times during Which?’s investigation, leaving customers stuck on hold for 27 minutes 21 seconds on average – a call length that would potentially cost someone using a mobile £15.
Utilita left its customers waiting for an average of 24 minutes 19 seconds and had the longest single call waiting time of a shocking 72 minutes 40 seconds – the same amount of time it takes to get the train from London to Southampton, where the firm’s head office is.
Five of the Big Six energy firms kept customers waiting for around 10 minutes or longer on average – with Npower the worst of the bunch on 20 minutes 31 seconds.
Scottish Power was the best of the Big Six with an average call waiting time of three minutes 29 seconds, while smaller suppliers Affect Energy (10 seconds) and So Energy (21 seconds) were the best performers overall.
Npower was by far the worst supplier for live chat response times – taking more than 17 minutes on average before a customer service adviser responded.
It was followed by SSE and Eon, which both took more than four minutes on average – although Eon customers might consider themselves lucky to get a response at all, as our researchers found live chat was unavailable on 10 out of 12 attempts.
Spark Energy customers frustrated with dire phone waiting times for customer service would have been more impressed with an average waiting time of 25 seconds on live chat – although the service was unavailable on six out of 12 attempts. It’s a similar story for Utilita which answered live chat enquiries in 93 seconds on average but was unavailable on seven out of 12 occasions.
Those firms which didn’t offer live chat, we contacted by email or online form instead. Both Engie and Economy Energy failed to answer any of our 12 enquiries within two weeks.
Eight firms – Solarplicity, Octopus Energy, The Co-Operative Energy, Affect Energy, Sainsbury’s Energy, Flow Energy, So Energy and Tonik Energy – responded to emails or online forms within a day, on average.
A Which? survey of 8,000 UK energy customers in September and October 2018 found phone is still the most popular way to contact suppliers.
Three in 10 (30%) people said they had phoned their energy company in the past year, while one in seven (14%) had emailed and one in 10 (10%) had used live chat.
Energy companies shouldn’t use the forthcoming energy price cap as an excuse to become complacent on customer service. Which? is calling on the Government and regulator to keep up the pressure on energy companies to improve their offering to consumers.
Alex Neill, Which? Managing Director of Home Products and Services, said:
“As if regular price hikes aren’t bad enough, customers of some energy companies are facing infuriating waits just to get through to a customer service adviser on the phone.
“’No one should have to put up with shoddy customer service and rip-off deals. If your current supplier is constantly leaving you in the lurch, you should switch and potentially save almost £400 a year.”
Notes to editors
- Since Which?’s investigation Extra Energy and Spark Energy have both ceased trading.
Phone investigation – https://www.which.co.uk/news/
Which? conducted a mystery shop of 38 energy companies’ telephone customer service response times in England, Scotland and Wales in September and October 2018. We called each company 12 times at set times of the day, on different days of the week, and timed how long it took us to get through to a human.
This is a snapshot investigation, the figures in the Which? news story are the median average waiting times during the undercover investigation in September and October 2018: https://www.which.co.uk/news/
2018/11/the-big-energy-firms- which-keep-you-hanging-on-the- telephone/
The 38 suppliers were chosen based on customer numbers, based on our current market knowledge.
In addition to Affect Energy and So Energy, four other smaller and newer energy firms responded to Which?’s calls within a minute. They were Engie, Outfox the Market, Solarplicity and Together Energy.
The Spark Energy £15 figure is based on the fact it uses an 0345 number. A list of phone number charge details can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/call-
Full results can be found here: https://infogram.com/energy-
companies-customer-service- telephone-waiting-times-2018- 1h9j6qwnv0856gz?live
In September and October 2018 we used energy companies’ live chat 12 times at set times of the day and on different days of the week and timed how long it took us to get a human response. The scores are median averages.
The 11 companies that provided live chat were British Gas, Bulb Energy, EDF Energy, Eon, First Utility, Npower, Outfox the Market, Scottish Power, Spark Energy, SSE and Utilita.
Full results can be found here: https://infogram.com/live-
Email and online form
In September and October 2018 we contacted energy companies 12 times via email or online form and timed how long it took to get a human response, and how many responses we received within two weeks. The scores are median averages.
We emailed 27 companies which didn’t offer a live chat option, but did offer email or online form contact.
Full results can be found here: https://infogram.com/email-
Consumers looking for a better deal can compare deals with Which? Switch, a transparent and impartial way to compare energy tariffs and find the best gas and electricity provider for your needs.
The saving (£378) is the difference between the priciest default tariff with a Big Six company and the cheapest deal on the market. Prices are based on a dual-fuel tariff available in all regions in England, Scotland and Wales, paying by monthly direct debit with paperless bills. Energy use is based on Ofgem’s annual average usage figures for medium users (12,000kWh gas and 3,100kWh electricity). Data is from Energylinx. Prices given are averages across regions, rounded to the nearest whole pound and correct on 21 November 2018.