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Customer service at biggest energy firms ‘not good enough’

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

A damning review of customer service across the biggest energy firms in the sector reveals every single one has a weakness in the way users – and their complaints – are dealt with.

The energy regulator Ofgem has named and shamed all 17 of the biggest energy suppliers over their customer service standards.

It revealed that customers were left waiting for hours on the phone, with some hanging up out of frustration, while other calls were left unanswered.

Ofgem said there were inconsistent scripts and weak training for staff handling complex calls, slow responses to written communication, high rates of complaints upheld by the Energy Ombudsman, as well as patchy performance monitors.

It flagged E.ON, which serves 2.2 million customers as having “severe weaknesses”. Its performance on call waiting times and abandoned call rates were rated “very poor” and “represented a severe deterioration in standards from when it previously assessed its performance”.

As a result, it has today been served with a provisional order requiring it to make improvements.

Ofgem also found “moderate weaknesses” at 11 suppliers (British Gas, E Gas & Electricity, EDF, Good Energy, Outfox the Market, OVO, ScottishPower, SO Energy, Utilita, Utility Warehouse and Tru Energy).

“Minor weaknesses” were found at Bulb, Ecotricity, Green Energy, Shell and Octopus and Ofgem said none of the suppliers were found to have “no weaknesses” at all.

The regulator said that most customers aren’t switching supplier in the current climate, “so customer power is less able to drive improvements”, adding that “it is more critical than ever that the regulator ensures standards are maintained”.

It found that suppliers are getting more call, with some reporting numbers up 300%. At the same time, early findings suggest that calls are becoming more complex too, meaning that they’re taking longer to resolve.

Ofgem said it is looking at whether it can introduce stronger, more prescriptive minimum standards – working with government, consumer groups and suppliers to make sure customers are protected.

It added that since its latest (fourth) Market Compliance Review covering the three months to December 2022, it has shared the ratings with these suppliers and has started compliance engagement with them on areas needing improvement.

‘Improvements need to be made’

Neil Lawrence, director of retail at Ofgem, said: “From being on hold for too long, to not being given clear information, or sometimes not getting through to suppliers at all, this review has highlighted that customer service is just not good enough. In a world where customers need to be confident in consistently great care and support, it is clear that improvements need to be made.

“We also know from talking to suppliers that the calls they are getting are more and more complex. But we expect suppliers to respond dynamically to this, updating processes, call handling scripts and having enough people to deal with the current issues and complexities.”

Lawrence added that the “ask” on suppliers may be greater due to these complexities, but said it is clear that some have “risen to the challenge better than others”.

He said: “This isn’t just about the energy industry in isolation; this is about raising standards, so we are in line with other customer retail standards getting waiting times down, making sure calls are answered and being able to give helpful information about a critical service.

“I want to see further improvement action as a result of today’s findings, and we will take further, firm action where this doesn’t happen.”

Earlier today Ofgem confirmed it was undertaking an urgent investigation of British Gas following claims in The Times that its third party agents broke into vulnerable people’s homes to switch them onto prepayment meters.