A recent Which? survey found that around 60% of energy customers had cause to get in touch with their energy provider in the year prior to the survey. Concerningly, one in five of those who'd contacted their supplier said that their question couldn't be answered.
To uncover customers' views of the UK's energy providers, Which? surveyed 8,803 people in October 2021 about their experiences between October 2020 and October 2021.
While some people reach out to their energy company routinely to pay bills or submit meter readings, the recent energy price increases mean many others will be doing so to have more difficult conversations.
Here, we shed light on customers' views on what it's like to contact their energy provider. Plus, we see what providers are doing to keep their customers informed about price increases and the options for those struggling to pay.
In October, Which? asked energy customers to share how they would rate their provider on various aspects, including customer service.
Our survey respondents told us that phone calls were their preferred form of communication. Close to a quarter (22%) of those who reached out to their energy company did so on the phone, over one in eight (13%) contacted their supplier via email and one in 10 did so through online or live chat.
A third of those who contacted their supplier by phone had to wait a long time for their phone call to be answered. 17% said they were passed around between lots of people.
For those who used email to contact their energy provider, 18% said it took a long time to get a reply to their message.
And of those who had used an online live chat function, 18% also said that a response took a long time.
Concerningly, one in eight (12%) of those who had contacted their energy provider never got a reply. This was marginally more likely to be the case for those who contacted their provider using Twitter (22%), text message (19%) or letter (17%). More than a third (36%) of those who had reached out to their energy firm said they were passed around between lots of people.
As for the important matter of actually resolving your queries, there's plenty of room for improvement. One in five of those who contacted their energy provider told us that they couldn't get their question answered by their energy company.
Our data shows that some companies are doing much better than others on quality of their customer service. The table below illustrates the percentage of people who positively rated the service they received from their energy firm.
Octopus Energy had the highest proportion of customers who rated the customer service they experienced as good, at 79%. It's followed by So Energy at 71%.
Outfox the Market and Scottish Power, meanwhile, had the fewest positive customer service ratings, at just shy of half (48%) of their customers.
In light of surging wholesale energy prices over the winter months, the will climb significantly from April 2022. Energy regulator Ofgem announced in February that the cap would increase by almost £700 (or 54%) from 1 April, affecting people on standard, default and out-of-contract tariffs.
As the price hike comes into force, many customers will be looking to their energy provider for communication and guidance more than ever. Which? has seen several emails from energy providers in recent weeks telling customers about the incoming increase, and the steps those facing or experiencing fuel poverty can take.
British Gas, Eon and Octopus Energy were among 26 suppliers that agreed to a set of voluntary commitments last July, designed to help ensure energy consumers know their rights and get the support they need.
The pledges, drawn up by Ofgem and the energy industry's trade association Energy UK, focus on ensuring those in financial difficulty can easily contact their energy provider via different channels, help ensure bill accuracy and to step up smart meter installations for prepayment customers.
British Gas emailed its customers to share several cost-cutting measures and a link to its news page covering why prices have surged of late. It also signposted recipients to its Energy Trust, which offers independent advice and support regardless of whether or not you're one of its customers.
Eon customers received an email highlighting its tips for keep energy bills down, such as paying by direct debit for a £35 annual saving or getting bills by email rather than in the post for a £5 annual saving.
This tool helps Octopus customers find out about any government assistance they're entitled to, or get more information about the additional support the company has, such as the £2.5m it has set aside to be distributed in grants worth between £50 and £500 per household.
We also heard from an Eon Next customer whose fixed-rate tariff was ending. The message stated how much more their new 12-month fixed tariff would be for electricity and gas payments and signposted them to Citizens Advice if they needed any help with meeting payments.
These are just a few examples of communication from gas and electricity firms regarding payment rises and available assistance that we've seen in recent weeks.
If you've received any good (or not so good) messages from your supplier about the energy price cap, payment increases or what steps you can take if you can't pay your bills, Which? wants to hear from you.
When April 2022's energy price cap was announced earlier this month the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, also confirmed a package of support to help those impacted by the rise, worth £350 to the 'vast majority of households'.
The range of measures is made up of:
Lisa Barber, Which? home products and services editor, said: 'The sheer scale of these energy bill increases will cause real concern and fear for families and households up and down the country where people are already struggling to pay their bills due to the rising cost of living.
'The government's support measures will bring some relief to some people, but they need to be judged on whether financial help is getting to the most vulnerable. Many more people will be dragged into fuel poverty once prices rise in April, so the government and energy firms should ensure that support reaches those who need it ahead of this.
'For those on a fixed-rate tariff, it's best to stay put as you are unlikely to find a cheaper deal. However, if you're on an out-of-contract tariff, now that the price cap has been announced it's worth keeping an eye out in case better deals become available in the coming weeks.'