May 21, 2024

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Major firms offering ‘shockingly poor’ customer service, Which? warns

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Major firms supplying essential household services are failing in every area of customer service as standards “plumb new depths” in the post-pandemic era, according to watchdog Which?.

Many businesses were already offering sub-standard customer service before Covid forced them to close call centres and cut support staff, but the consumer group found firms in key sectors have failed to improve or worsened.

A survey of more than 3,000 members of the public about their most recent customer service experience in the energy, financial services, retail and telecoms sectors found around 20% on average were unhappy, climbing 22% for the telecoms sector and 25% for the energy industry.

Almost a quarter were unhappy with how long it took to speak to someone who could help (23%) and how long it took to get an answer to their query (22%).

These figures rose to 33% and 31% respectively for those contacting energy companies, with 49% of Scottish Power customers and 47% of Ovo customers saying they were unhappy with the wait to get through to someone who could help.

One Scottish Power customer told Which? “It took ages to get hooked up to live chat. The AI chatbot was useless and it took so long to get the answer I needed.”

An Ovo customer said: “It took 90 minutes for an agent to finally accept a live chat.”

Almost a fifth of respondents were unhappy with the ease of finding contact information (17%), and with the methods provided (18%).

For energy companies, these figures rose to around a fifth (21% and 24% respectively), with Scottish Power, Ovo and British Gas performing especially poorly in this area.

Over a third (36%) of Scottish Power customers were dissatisfied with the contact options provided, and 29% of Ovo customers found it difficult to find contact information, as did 25% of British Gas customers.

A fifth (21%) who contacted an energy company were dissatisfied with how seriously the company took their issue.

The findings follow Turner Prize-winning artist Sir Grayson Perry revealing he had spent “about three hours at least” on the phone to energy supplier EDF after they tried to raise his monthly electricity bill from £300 to £39,000, with other customers including journalist Jon Sopel reacting with similar stories.

Within the telecoms sector, 26% of Sky customers struggled to find contact information.

Which? director of policy and advocacy Rocio Concha said: “Too many people are experiencing shockingly poor customer service, whether that means struggling to get through at all, deficient chatbots or poorly trained staff that only seem to make the problem worse.

“Our research has found shoddy customer service in a number of sectors, with the energy industry performing particularly poorly.

“Any companies falling short on customer service need to up their game. Everyone should be able to get the answers they need without long waits or endless loops, be kept informed and treated fairly, with empathy and as an individual.”

A Sky spokeswoman said: “We are committed to providing the best service for our customers. Our customer service number is listed on our online help pages and within our extensive help guides. We’re proud to consistently be named as one of the least complained-about telecoms providers in Ofcom’s quarterly complaints data.”

Scottish Power said: “98% of customer emails were responded to within two days and our average speed of answering phone inquiries is under 110 seconds.

“These figures, collated as part of a robust study by Citizens Advice and released this week, puts us top of the large suppliers when it comes to customer service call waiting times and email turnaround.

“We’ve worked tirelessly to improve and enhance our services for all of our customers and will continue to do everything we can to help them.”

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