Energy customers are facing “infuriating” waits to get through to call centres, while some online queries are going unanswered, a watchdog has found.
Spark Energy, which went bust last week, was the worst firm for call waiting times, leaving customers on hold for 27 minutes and 21 seconds on average over the course of the investigation by Which?, potentially costing a mobile user £15.
The consumer group made more than 450 phone calls to 38 gas and electricity suppliers and also tested live chat and email services, finding “huge” variations in how long customers were kept waiting.
Utilita left its customers waiting for an average of 24 minutes and 19 seconds and had the longest single call waiting time of 72 minutes and 40 seconds – the amount of time it takes to get a train from London to Southampton, home of the firm’s head office, Which? calculated.
Five of the Big Six energy firms kept customers waiting for around 10 minutes or longer on average – with Npower the worst on 20 minutes and 31 seconds.
Scottish Power was the best of the Big Six with an average call waiting time of three minutes and 29 seconds, while smaller supplier Affect Energy took just 10 seconds to answer followed by So Energy on 21 seconds.
Npower was by far the worst supplier for live chat response times, taking more than 17 minutes on average before a customer service adviser responded.
It was followed by SSE and E.On, which both took more than four minutes on average.
Which? said E.On customers might consider themselves lucky to get a response at all after finding that live chat was unavailable on 10 out of 12 attempts.
Utilita answered live chat enquiries in 93 seconds on average but was unavailable on seven out of 12 occasions.
Engie and Economy Energy did not offer live chat but failed to answer any of the watchdog’s 12 emailed or online form enquiries within two weeks.
A Which? survey of 8,000 UK energy customers in September and October found that phone is still the most popular form of contact, with 30% saying they had called their supplier in the past year.
Which? warned that energy companies should not use the forthcoming energy price cap as an excuse to become complacent on customer service.
Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home products and services, said: “As if regular price hikes aren’t bad enough, customers of some energy companies are facing infuriating waits just to get through to a customer service adviser on the phone.
“No one should have to put up with shoddy customer service and rip-off deals. If your current supplier is constantly leaving you in the lurch, you should switch and potentially save almost £400 a year.”
Anthony Pygram, director of conduct and enforcement at Ofgem, said: “Suppliers are required by Ofgem to treat their customers fairly. It is unacceptable that customers have to wait a long time before they are put through to a customer service operator.
“Ofgem closely monitors the level of customer service provided by suppliers and takes tough action when suppliers fail their customers.”
An Energy UK spokesman said: “Quality customer service is an important factor for many consumers. So it’s in suppliers’ interest to deliver this in a highly competitive market where more and more customers are switching every year and choosing new suppliers based on considerations like service as well as price.”