The "Big Six" energy companies are among the worst offenders when it comes to poor customer service, with npower finishing bottom in a poll of the UK's biggest brands.
The annual Which? survey found all of the big six - British Gas, EDF Energy, E.On, npower, ScottishPower and SSE - languishing in the bottom fifth of the table, with none of them scoring more than two stars for making customers feel valued.
The poll of more than 3,500 consumers gave npower a customer score of 57%, replacing last year's lowest scoring company Ryanair at the bottom of the table.
However other banks fell well below First Direct, such as Santander and NatWest in joint 70th position with a score of 70%, and Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC and Barclays/Barclaycard who all finished joint 60th with a score of 71%.
Automated phone systems were ranked as the top customer service gripe (43%), followed by "being passed around" (37%) and "annoying hold music" (35%).
Other grievances included staff talking to each other (34%), rude staff (33%), long queues (33%), assistants trying to sell unwanted products (32%), lack of knowledge about products (24%) and having to wait for help or a response (21%).
'Hit rock bottom'
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: "The Big Six energy companies have now hit rock bottom for customer service and, with record high levels of complaints, it is clear just how far they still have to go to put things right for their customers.
"Good companies know the value of customer service, so it's disappointing that some of our biggest firms seem to have a lot to learn about keeping their customers happy.
"This survey should be a wake-up call for the companies with the lowest customer scores."
Energy Secretary Ed Davey said: "It is unacceptable that so many customers have not received the customer service they deserve.
"Our reforms are making it easier and quicker for people to switch energy suppliers, particularly to the growing number of independent suppliers, so all energy companies need to be doing more for their customers."
Energy UK said: "Our members are well aware that customer service - along with attractive deals and prices - is at the heart of what their customers are looking for. This is helping drive the sustained increase in switching we are seeing in the energy sector. Energy companies know they are operating in a competitive market and are working hard to improve what they offer.
"We agree with Which? that customer information should always be simple and clear and fair. It is therefore important that the changes introduced earlier this year as part of the regulator's retail market review are fully evaluated from the customers' perspective."
Look through your direct debits and ask yourself whether you are really getting value from all of them. Are you reading your magazine subscriptions? Are you attending clubs? Are you going to the gym? In many cases we have let these roll over in a vague hope that at some point they'll be useful to us again. But unless they're useful to you today, you need to ditch them.
Likewise, look through your cupboards, fridge and freezer and really think about what you buy versus what you eat. Ask yourself whether there are certain things you buy every time you shop that you appear to be stockpiling, or fresh foods that you buy out of habit that end up going mouldy more often than not.
This is particularly vital for car and home insurance. If you automatically renew instead of shopping around, you could be wasting £300 a year or more, so make a note in your diary when your renewal is due, and a week beforehand set aside some time to find the best deal.
The same goes for any service you sign up to. Many will automatically tick the auto-renewal box when you first sign up - so it's worth checking your accounts to see if you have accidentally pledged to buy the same products again next year.
We waste a small fortune by doing things at the last minute, in a hurry, or missing the deadline. Take travel, for example, if you know you are travelling in a few weeks' time you can buy your ticket far more cheaply today. Likewise, if you are ordering a present or something you need for an event, make the time to shop in advance and opt for standard delivery rather than paying for a rush job. And make a point of dealing within anything with a penalty for lateness at least a few days before the deadline expires.
Most of us shop in a state of semi-consciousness, rushing down the aisles and taking things off the shelf out of habit, without really noticing what we're buying. It's no wonder we come home with armfuls of things we don't need.
Shopping needs to be done consciously and purposely. You need to start with a list, and view each item carefully. If you tend to buy a certain brand, have you at least tried the supermarket's own brand to see if you like it as much? If you tend to buy the own-brand, have you tried the 'value' brand? Switching your brain on can save you as much as 30% on your shopping bill
You might be skeptical if someone tried to tell you that your heart starts pounding at the sight of discounted toilet rolls or a BOGOF deal on tins of beans, but actually it does. Your heart rate will increase fractionally and your blood pressure will rise slightly, as your instincts tell you this is a good thing which will help you do your hunting and gathering more effectively and feed your family for less.
In order to avoid making mistakes, we need to think carefully about every deal instead of acting on our instincts. Is this something you were going to buy anyway? Is the discounted version cheaper than the one you normally buy? Is it a multibuy that's going to last long enough for you to use it? It's always worth bearing in mind that it's only a good deal if you were actually going to buy the product at full price anyway.
Even the most organised people tend to think about supermarket shopping once a week - just before they go. They might think about their likely meals, look at what they have in the fridge, and make a list of the additional things they need. This is all very well, but assuming you do this on Saturdays, you also need to make a date to check the fridge on Wednesday too.
On Wednesday there's still a chance to prioritise those things which are going out of date, or freeze the things you're not going to get to. By Saturday they will have turned to mush in the vegetable drawer.
This is something we've all heard from organisations trying to persuade us to go green, and somewhere in the back of our minds we know we're being wasteful. It can be easy to get into the habit of turning things off by remote control and leaving the red light flashing. However, when you hear that this little habit costs the average household £80 a year, it begs the question as to whether it's really so hard to turn it off properly.
We sometimes forget we live in a free market economy, and instead we stick with the companies and services we have always used. In some cases this is a very sensible idea - because we know we are going to a trusted hairdresser who always does a good job, or a dentist who is very reliable.
However, sometimes we find ourselves sticking with a company just because we have been a customer for so long - even if they have let us down in the past.
There's no logical reason for this loyalty, and it's often costing us money. So divorce the things we stick with for good reasons from the things we think we're stuck with, and vote with your feet.
There are some things we do because they are convenient, which we get a lot out of. If there's one night a week when you don't get home until 8pm and you're too tired to cook, it would be daft not to have something easy in the house to throw in a pan or the oven. No-one is suggesting you should sacrifice the conveniences you rely on to make your life work.
However, there are all sorts of 'conveniences' you may have fallen into because you think they make a far bigger difference to your life than they do. Try an experiment. If you usually buy cheese slices or grated cheese, bags of salad, carrot in sticks or sliced 'stir fry' ingredients in a bag, try buying them in a more traditional format for one week. If chopping, slicing or grating sends you over the edge, by all means go back to what you were buying before. If not, you could end up saving £100 a year.
All of us have an area in life where we know we could be less wasteful if only we understood a bit more about it. If you want to make cheaper overseas calls, stream movies for less, make calls for free, or track down a cheaper holiday, there are clever ways of doing it all. In an ideal world we could all become experts at it all. In the real world your circle of friends and acquaintances is going to be home to someone who's an expert in each field. What's even better is these experts will enjoy sharing the benefit of their knowledge, so make them a cup of tea and let them solve your problems