Utility companies slated over customer serviceCitizens Advice says standards must improve

05 February 2008

A man on the phone

One third of British adults have received a scam phone call

Gas, electricity and telecoms companies have been slated for the poor way they deal with customer problems and complaints.

A Citizens Advice survey of almost 800 people found that nearly a third had to spend more than 30 minutes hanging on the phone to their utility company.

Many were unable to resolve their problem in one call and while utility companies often provide lo-call or freephone numbers, Citizens Advice say those without a landline can rack up huge bills trying to get through on mobile phones.

One Dorset builder and his wife wanted to keep their number when they temporarily moved home.

Telephone and gas

They paid their phone company £70 to put their old phone number in store so they could use it when they moved back.

But when they returned the couple had to spend 80 hours calling from their mobiles trying to get the number reinstated.

Telephone and gas companies fared the worst in the Citizens Advice survey.

The research found that 89% of people were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the way their last call to a landline provider had been handled, with 87% of these calls made to BT, while 81% felt the same way about a call to a gas supplier, with 71% of these people contacting British Gas.

Call centres

A separate Ipsos Mori survey of more than 2,000 people also concluded that utility companies had the worst call centres. Around 27% of customers who had contacted a utility company by telephone in the last 12 months said they were dissatisfied with the way the call had been handled.

Citizens Advice is now urging utilities companies to improve their customer service.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive David Harker said: ‘Utilities such as gas and telecoms are essential services that people need in order to survive in the modern world.

‘It is vital that people are able to contact their providers effectively when they have queries or problems. Yet this report shows that many companies have a long way to go before they respond to customer needs effectively.’

Complaint levels

A British Gas spokesman said: 'We've invested more than £60 million in recent months on 800 more frontline agents and better training, and it's paying off.

‘The most recent figures from Energywatch show that our complaint levels have fallen by 82% since April. We know we still have challenges ahead and we're not complacent - but we're making real progress on our customer service.’

A BT spokesman said that at the the time of the survey (September - October 2007) the telecoms giant was experiencing some issues affecting a minority of its customers ordering brand new phone lines.

He added: ‘These issues resulted from some teething problems with a new IT system we have installed to comply with our commitments to the telecoms regulator Ofcom.

‘This new system is dealing with 50,000 customers a week, the vast majority of whom have had no issues.

‘We have been doing everything we can to put matters right and have recruited a substantial number of additional staff.’