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Chat bots stay mute as energy suppliers fail on customer service

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A new investigation has revealed the worst energy firms for leaving customers hanging on the phone, with one recording a wait time of over an hour.

Which? made more than 450 phone calls in total to 38 gas and electricity suppliers and also tested live chat and email services.

It found Spark Energy was the worst for call waiting times, leaving customers on hold for an average of 27 minutes and 21 seconds. The company went bust last week. Utilita left its customers waiting for an average of 24 minutes 19 seconds, while one call went unanswered for 72 minutes 40 seconds. Anyone calling on a mobile could find themselves with a bill of up to £30.

The big six fared a little better, after extensive lobbying from consumers. Five of the Big Six energy firms kept customers waiting for around 10 minutes or longer on average. Npower was the worst at 20 minutes 31 seconds, but Scottish Power kept its customers waiting just three minutes 29 seconds. The best performers were small suppliers Affect Energy (10 seconds) and So Energy (21 seconds).

Live chat is gaining traction among energy customers to answer queries. However, Npower’s response times was more than 17 minutes on average, defeating the object of these ‘chat bots’. Which? researchers also found that some live chat options were frequently unavailable. For Eon customers, 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.

Eight firms – Solarplicity, Octopus Energy, The Co-Operative Energy, Affect Energy, Sainsbury’s Energy, Flow Energy, So Energy and Tonik Energy – responded to emails or online forms within a day, on average.

Three in 10 (30%) people said they had phoned their energy company in the past year, while one in seven (14%) had emailed and one in 10 (10%) had used live chat.

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.”


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