Energy suppliers are keeping customers on hold for as long as 40 minutes, with both large and small firms subjecting us to long ordeals of muzak and voice menus, a study by Which? has revealed.
The consumer advocate placed 384 calls to 32 energy suppliers in September and October, making 12 calls to each, at different times of the day and days of the week. It discovered that many energy suppliers are still struggling to provide responsive customer service, months after the pandemic shuttered call centres and pushed staff to home working.
Boost Energy, the pay-as-you-go brand of second-largest supplier Ovo Energy, was the worst offender. It took an average of 40 minutes, 58 seconds to answer phone calls. That’s the longer than the entire first half of a rugby match.
Boost left one caller on hold for a shocking two hours and 39 minutes, longer than the runtime of most films. That was one of four occasions when Boost took longer than an hour to respond to customer calls.
Energy giants and minnows alike are neglecting the phones. Largest supplier British Gas was the second-slowest responder, taking an average of 23 minutes and 32 seconds to pick up calls. It was closely followed by small supplier Orbit Energy, which left customers waiting for an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds.
In total, a third of energy firms kept customers listening to canned music for more than 10 minutes, including three other members of the now-defunct Big Six. Npower answered calls after 21 minutes and 46 seconds, on average, while E.on was slightly faster, at 19 minutes and 40 seconds. EDF customers are left waiting 13 minutes and 26 seconds before reaching a human.
But having large customer bases or growing rapidly was no excuse for poor customer service, as competitors showed. The best performer this year was Together Energy, which picked up calls in just 51 seconds on average. This is despite Together acquiring 155,000 customers with its acquisition of Bristol Energy in August.
Octopus Energy, which has grown its customer base rapidly since launching in 2016 and now serves more than 1.5 million households, was the most responsive of the 10 largest suppliers. Its customers were left on hold for an average of just two minutes and four seconds.
Some suppliers have adapted better to the disruptions and restrictions of this year. Scottish Power was the worst supplier for answering calls last year, keeping customers waiting for 21 minutes and 24 seconds on average. This year it brought waiting times down to just two minutes and 28 seconds, making it the second-best performer among the energy market giants.
So Energy, the fastest supplier last year, had a different trajectory. While it was answering calls after just 38 seconds in 2019, waiting times this year were 16 minutes and 52 seconds, making it one of the ten slowest providers.
Those hoping to avoid phone call purgatory by using live chat functions—as many suppliers have urged customers to do during the pandemic—may fare little better. Shell Energy takes an average of 33 minutes and 39 seconds to respond to live chat queries. In contrast, Outfox the Market responds in just 10 seconds, on average.
Which? said the slow customer service was unacceptable, especially as many customers have seen their circumstances change during the pandemic and may need additional support from their supplier.
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.”
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