Energy companies are keeping consumers waiting on hold over the phone for as long as half an hour, new research reveals.
An investigation by Which? found that on average, the consumer body was left waiting on hold for between 21 seconds (by energy firm Ebico) to 17 minutes and five seconds (by npower) before getting through to someone in energy companies’ customer service departments. The shortest waiting time in a single call was four seconds (Ebico), however, npower had the longest waiting time, with a mystery caller waiting for 29 minutes.
The consumer group found only six out of the 16 suppliers it called had an average waiting time of less than two minutes, including just one of the ‘Big Six’ firms (EDF Energy). It believes it is reasonable to expect customer service calls to be answered within two minutes.
Which? compared the findings with a previous investigation and found that energy companies are slower at picking up calls from existing customers than prospective ones. Out of the six major energy providers, only E.ON answered calls to their customer services department faster than calls to their sales number.
Which? Executive Director Richard Lloyd said: “It’s unacceptable that some energy suppliers are leaving their customers dangling on the phone for anything up to half an hour. If energy companies want to restore trust in the industry they must work harder to make people feel confident that customer service is a top priority, and stop putting sales over service. We’d like to see calls to customer service centres being picked up within two minutes.”
In response, npower said it was disappointed by the results and that the investigation was conducted when calls were “abnormally high”, prior to a temporary closure of its contact centres for three days.
It added: “We want to improve our service; one aspect is the speed we answer calls. Since April, we’ve recruited an additional 150 people in our contact centres and our average call waiting time in May was less than two minutes.”
Consumers said they are “fed up” of waiting, with three in ten saying that being left on hold for long periods before speaking to someone is one of their biggest bugbears when calling an energy provider’s customer service.
Energy companies receive 60 million phone calls a year to their customer service departments.