Energy firms ‘keeping customers on hold for longer than an episode of Corrie’

Some energy firms are keeping customers waiting on the phone for around the time it takes to watch an episode of Coronation Street, a snapshot investigation by Which? has found.

And some firms took around the length of time to answer that it would take to watch half of a rugby match.

In a mystery shopping investigation, the consumer group made 384 calls to 32 energy providers to reveal how long it took for customer service teams to answer.

Which? called each provider 12 times at different times of the day and on different days of the week.

Boost Energy, a pay-as-you-go supplier owned by Ovo Energy, was the slowest to answer calls. On average customers were left waiting for 40 minutes and 58 seconds before their calls were answered – around the equivalent time period to half of a rugby match.

One caller was left waiting for two hours, 39 minutes before their call was answered.

Boost said in a statement: “With our waiting times during the last quarter averaging eight minutes, we’re disappointed not to meet our usual high standards for our customers. During this period, we had a higher number of customers contacting us to ask for support.”

British Gas was the second slowest provider to answer calls in Which?’s snapshot investigation. It took 23 minutes and 32 seconds on average to pick up calls – a similar length of time to a typical episode of Corrie minus the ad breaks.

British Gas told Which? it has faced challenges but is recruiting more staff and supplying home workers with new technology.

Many call centres have faced challenges as they adapted to new ways of working due to the pandemic. However, at the time of the Which? investigation in September and October, the consumer group said that while some were coping well, others appeared to be struggling.

Around a third of energy firms kept customers waiting for more than 10 minutes on average before their calls were answered – including three other large energy companies.

On average, Npower took 21 minutes and 46 seconds to answer calls, while E.ON only picked up after 19 minutes and 40 seconds. EDF Energy customers were left waiting 13 minutes and 26 seconds on average before their calls were answered, Which? said.

An E.ON statement said: “We’ve moved the vast majority of our office-based call centres to remote working in a very short space of time.

“Our own data shows that our average call wait times are significantly lower than the figures stated here, and we’ve worked hard over recent months to ensure customers are aware of our other contact methods – including our app, online self-serve, social media channels and information on our website eonenergy.com.”

Npower said: “Our own data shows an average wait of around seven minutes.”

Together Energy, which recently acquired the domestic customer base of Bristol Energy, was the fastest energy provider to pick up calls, with customers waiting for 51 seconds on average.

Octopus Energy, which has rapidly grown its customer base since launching in 2016, only left customers waiting for two minutes and four seconds on average.

Scottish Power was also relatively speedy, answering calls in two minutes and 28 seconds on average.

Which? said this marked a massive improvement compared with last year when the Glasgow-based energy firm was identified as the worst provider for answering calls and left customers waiting for 21 minutes and 24 seconds, on average.

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.”

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