New research from Which? – the London-based consumer watchdog – has found the Big Six energy suppliers are among the worst offenders when it comes to poor customer service, with Npower finishing bottom for the first time in its annual survey of the top 100 big brands.
Which? asked 3,621 UK consumers which companies are customer service champions and which brands just aren’t up to scratch.
All of the Big Six energy companies languish in the bottom fifth of the table, with none of them scoring more than two stars for making customers feel valued.
Npower fares the worst with a customer score of just 57%, replacing Ryanair which came bottom of the table last year. Second from the bottom is Scottish Power, with a customer rating of 58%, down from joint 62nd in 2013’s rankings.
The Which? research also found that the First Direct utility – which donates 1% of net profits to charity – came top of the table with a score of 87%.
It achieved the full five stars for people feeling valued as a customer as well as its complaints resolution. It was joined in the top five by fellow top-consumer-trusted brands Lush (86%), John Lewis (83%), Lakeland (83%) and Waitrose (83%).
Automated phone systems were ranked as the top customer service gripe (43%) with being passed around (37%) and annoying ‘hold’ music (35%) the other top irritations.
A Which? spokeswoman said: “The Big Six energy companies have now hit rock bottom for customer service and, with record high levels of complaints, it is clear just how far they still have to go to put things right for their customers.
“Good companies know the value of customer service, so it’s disappointing that some of our biggest firms seem to have a lot to learn about keeping their customers happy. This survey should be a wake-up call for the companies with the lowest customer scores.
“Our new Fair Energy Prices campaign is calling for the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), as part of its current investigation into the energy market, to investigate the best way for the regulator to establish a ‘price to beat’, so that consumers can trust that the price they pay is fair and to require energy suppliers to use simple, directly comparable pricing, similar to petrol pump displays, so people can more easily compare prices and make the best choice if they switch.
“Our Which? tracker surveys also show that three-quarters of people (76%) are worried about energy prices.
Which? also found the following Top 10 customer service gripes:
Automated telephone systems (43%)
Being passed around lots of people (37%)
Annoying hold music (35%)
Staff talking to each other (34%)
Rude staff (33%)
Long queues (33%)
Selling you unwanted products (32%)
Lack of knowledge about products (24%)
‘One size fits all’ standard responses to problems (24%), and
Having to wait for help or a response (21%)
In response to the Which? survey, a spokesman for Energy UK – the trade body which speaks for the Big Six British utility companies – said: “Our members are well aware that customer service – along with attractive deals and prices – is at the heart of what their customers are looking for.
“This is helping drive the sustained increase in switching we are seeing in the energy sector. Energy companies know they are operating in a competitive market and are working hard to improve what they offer.
“We agree with Which? that customer information should always be simple and clear and fair. It is therefore important that the changes introduced earlier this year as part of the regulators retail market review are fully evaluated from the customers’ perspective.”