Some of Britain’s biggest energy companies are keeping customers waiting on the phone for longer than 20 minutes, while one firm in Which?’s latest snapshot investigation had callers holding for more than 40 minutes on average.
In a mystery shop investigation, the consumer champion made 384 calls to 32 energy providers to reveal how long it took for customer service teams to answer. Which? called each provider 12 times at different times of the day and days of the week.
Many call centres have faced challenges as they adapted to new ways of working due to the pandemic. However, at the time of the Which? investigation in September and October, it was clear that while some were coping well, others were struggling to provide an acceptable level of customer service.
Boost Energy, a pay-as-you-go supplier owned by Ovo Energy, was the slowest to answer calls. On average customers were left waiting for 40 minutes and 58 seconds before their calls were answered. That’s longer than the entire first half of a rugby match.
One caller was left waiting for two hours, 39 minutes before their call was answered – the longest single call waiting time. In the time taken to answer this call, a disgruntled customer could have driven from Plymouth to the Bristol headquarters Boost shares with its parent company Ovo to make their complaint in person.
On four other occasions, Boost took more than an hour to answer phone calls to its customer service team.
British Gas was the second slowest provider to answer calls in Which?’s snapshot investigation. It took 23 minutes and 32 seconds on average to pick up calls – longer than a typical episode of Coronation Street (minus the ad breaks). This was closely followed by Orbit Energy, a small energy company, that left customers waiting for 23 minutes and 15 seconds on average.
Around a third of energy firms kept customers waiting for more than 10 minutes on average before their calls were answered – including three other large energy companies. On average, Npower took 21 minutes and 46 seconds to answer calls, while Eon only picked up calls after 19 minutes and 40 seconds. EDF Energy customers were left waiting 13 minutes and 26 seconds on average before their calls were answered.
So Energy was the fastest company last year answering calls in 38 seconds, on average. However, the challenger brand struggled to maintain its top spot and slipped to the slowest 10 this year after it left callers waiting for 16 minutes and 52 seconds on average.
Together Energy, which recently acquired the domestic customer base of Bristol Energy, was the fastest energy provider to pick up calls, with customers left waiting for just 51 seconds on average.
Octopus Energy, which has rapidly grown its customer base since launching in 2016, was the fastest of the energy firms with the largest market share and only left customers waiting for two minutes and four seconds on average.
Of the 10 energy companies with the largest market share, Scottish Power was the second best and on average answered calls in two minutes and 28 seconds. This is a massive improvement compared to last year when the Glasgow-based energy firm was the worst provider for answering calls and left customers waiting for 21 minutes and 24 seconds, on average.
Which? also contacted the 18 energy suppliers that offered a live chat function for customers and found Shell Energy was the worst when it came to responding – it took 33 minutes and 39 seconds on average to respond to queries on live chat.
Outfox the Market was the fastest energy company on live chat and only left customers that contacted them through this channel waiting for 10 seconds on average.
Many people have seen their circumstances change due to the pandemic and may need support from their energy company to pay bills.
This makes it more important than ever that companies answer calls and respond to customer queries quickly, and strive to offer customers who may be struggling a good level of customer service – so Which? is urging energy providers to redouble their efforts in this area.
Consumers who are concerned that they are not getting a good deal or level of customer service on their gas or electricity should look at the results of Which?’s annual satisfaction survey and consider using Which? Switch to move to a cheaper and better provider.
Natalie Hitchins, Head of Home Products and Services at Which?, said:
“We know the pandemic has made things difficult for call centres, but it is unacceptable that some firms are still wasting customers’ time with such long waits, especially at a time when consumers may need additional support from their provider.
“Customer service is an important factor when choosing an energy provider. Those who face lengthy waits just to speak with a customer service adviser should consider moving to a provider that can offer better service – customers could also save hundreds of pounds a year by switching.”
Notes to editor:
Which? conducted a mystery shop of 32 energy companies’ telephone customer service response times in England, Scotland and Wales in September and October 2020. 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. Times are averages. Octopus Energy supplies M&S Energy and runs their customer contact centre, so results were merged.
Which? also contacted energy companies 12 times using an additional medium – live chat, if available or email/online forms, if not.
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 2020.
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.
Please see a link to the full results for call waiting times below:
Please see a link to the full results for live chat below:
Responses from energy firms
A Boost spokesperson said: “With our waiting times during the last quarter averaging 8 minutes, we’re disappointed not to meet our usual high standards for our customers. During this period, we had a higher number of customers contacting us to ask for support.
“We’re always looking for ways to improve and have planned for additional resources over winter. We also offer a call-back service that allows customers to receive a call from one of our team, rather than have to wait. To support those who can’t pay their energy bills because of the effects of Coronavirus we also launched a Hardship Scheme.”
British Gas said it faced challenges with staff at overseas call centres working home, such as broadband and connectivity issues, and power cuts. It said it is recruiting more staff and supplying home workers with new tech.
An E.ON spokesperson said: “Over recent months, we’ve worked really hard to make sure our customers get a good level of service as we’ve adapted to a new way of working in the wake of the pandemic. We’ve moved the vast majority of our office based call centres to remote working in a very short space of time. Our own data shows that our average call wait times are significantly lower than the figures stated here, and we’ve worked hard over recent months to ensure customers are aware of our other contact methods – including our app, online self-serve, social media channels and information on our website eonenergy.com. We apologise to any customer who has experienced a long wait time and continue to work to ensure all customer queries are handled as swiftly and effectively as possible.”
Npower said: “We experienced an increase in calls in September compared to the previous month due to a slight delay in correspondence going out to our customers. This had a cumulative effect on call waiting times towards the end of the month. Our own data shows an average wait of around seven minutes and although over half of all calls were answered within 60 seconds the week Which? have stated, it is unfortunate that they had a longer wait than average.
Orbit Energy said it was improving their response times daily and have just moved to a 7 day a week operation, open at weekends to support customers
So Energy said at the time of the investigation it was training new staff remotely and taking on customers. It said waiting times are improving.
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