Energy companies putting customer service on holdWhich? compares energy companies' phone service

16 July 2013

Energy customer service infographic

Call Npower's customer services and you will be left on hold for an average of seventeen minutes - but small energy provider Ebico answers customer calls in just 21 seconds, according to our latest research.

In a test of call waiting times among energy suppliers, the longest we were left on hold was 29 minutes on a single call, while the shortest was just four seconds. Npower was worst overall and Ebico best but 10 out of the 16 energy suppliers we called took, on average, more than two minutes to answer the phone – what we consider to be a fair benchmark.

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Energy call waiting times

We called 16 energy companies 12 times at set times of the day and recorded how long it took between finishing dialling the customer service number and getting through to a human being. The full list of average waiting times is below, ranked from fastest to slowest.

Ebico energy company logo

1. Ebico - 21 secs
2. The Co-operative Energy - 39 secs
3. Ecotricity - 53 secs
4. Sainsbury's Energy - 56 secs
5. Good Energy - 1 min 3 secs
6. EDF Energy - 1 min 41 secs
7. M&S Energy - 2 mins 41 secs
8. Ovo Energy - 2 mins 44 secs
9. SSE - 3 mins 36 secs
 

Npower logo

10. Eon - 4 mins 4 secs
11. Scottish Power - 4 mins 26 secs
12. British Gas - 4 mins 34 secs
13. Utility Warehouse - 4 mins 42 secs
14. First Utility - 6 mins 13 secs
15. Spark Energy - 6 mins 30 secs
16. Npower - 17 mins 5 secs

Gas and electricity providers' phone service

Many energy companies are slower to pick up calls from existing customers than prospective ones. Of the big six energy providers (British Gas, EDF, Eon, Npower, Scottish Power and SSE) all but Eon were quicker to answer calls to its sales number than calls to its customer services. The times for sales calls were recorded for our March 2013 investigation into energy sales.

Listening to messages such as ‘your call is important to us’ is a bugbear for a fifth of the consumers we spoke to. Some energy companies, such as British Gas, Scottish Power and SSE, even played advertising messages while you wait.

Phone service is just one of the factors that affect how consumers rate their energy suppliers. Our full energy company reviews reveal which are the best and worst energy suppliers, as voted by their customers.

39%of consumers say their biggest energy call bugbear is a non-freephone number

Energy companies - charges for phone calls

Almost 90% of contact to energy firms' customer services happens over the phone  - that's more than 60 million calls a year. Customers' two biggest bugbears about calling energy companies customer services are charges for calls, followed by waiting on hold.

We looked at the types of phone numbers that energy companies use and found that:

  • Seven of the 16 companies we looked at don’t have a freephone number for customer service: Ecotricity, Eon, First Utility, Good Energy, Scottish Power, Spark Energy and Utility Warehouse.
  • Four companies make you pay to call customer services while providing freephone number for their energy sales line: Ecotricity, Eon, Scottish Power and Utility Warehouse.
  • Seven out of 16 companies don’t offer a geographical number for people calling customer service from a mobile phone: British Gas, M&S Energy, Sainsbury’s Energy, Scottish Power, SSE, Spark Energy and Utility Warehouse.

Energy sales over service

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: 'It’s outrageous that some energy suppliers are leaving their customers dangling on the phone, in some cases even paying for the privilege, for anything up to half an hour.

'With rising energy prices one of the top consumer concerns, people deserve to feel confident that customer service is a top priority for their energy supplier.

'Energy companies need to get their priorities right and stop putting sales over service.  We’d like to see calls to customer service centres being picked up within two minutes and that if they offer a freephone number for sales they should do the same for customer service.'

The full article, 'Energy Supplier Customer Service Rated', appears in the August issue of Which? magazine. If you're not already a Which? member, sign up for a trial for £1 for full access to our website and Which? magazine.

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