Utility companies failing customers

5 February 2008

Energy and telecom companies are failing their customers by offering dismal customer services and the worst call-centre performance in the UK.

That's the conclusion of a report by Citizens Advice that lambastes gas, electricity and telecoms companies for forcing their customers to spend long periods of time hanging on the telephone trying to get problems resolved. It names BT and British Gas as two of the worst offenders.

Nearly a third of people surveyed by the charity complained of spending more than half an hour on the phone to their utility company. Many also claimed they were unable to resolve their problem in just one call, leading to expensive phone bills for people calling from a mobile phone.

Citizens Advice says its research shows utility call-centres are the worst performing in the UK with 27% of customers complaining about the way their calls had been handled. This compares to 16% for those who had contacted a financial services company call-centre and 17% for those who had contacted a retailer.

BT fared particularly badly in the survey. Despite having a 68% share of the landline market, the firm provoked complaints from 87% of people responding to Citizens Advice’s survey. British Gas also came under fire, with 71% of people dissatisfied with the way it had handled their call.

David Harker, chief executive of Citizens Advice, says: "Utilities such as gas and telecoms are essential services that people need in order to survive in the modern world. It is vital that people are able to contact their providers effectively when they have queries or problems.

"Yet this report shows that many companies have a long way to go before they respond to customer needs effectively."

Currently, energy and telecom companies are not required to provide up-to-date information about their customer satisfaction levels. But Citizens Advice says that this information could be vital when it comes to consumers picking a supplier.

A spokesman for BT says it will investigate concerns raised by the survey and admits that at the time of the research it was experiencing problems with its IT systems used by call-centres.

He adds: "Although we recognise that we still have more work to do, there has been a substantial improvement in the last few months. We have reduced the time it takes us to sort out customers' problems and we have significantly cut the number of customers still waiting for service."

And a spokesman for British Gas says: "We've invested more than £60 million in recent months on 800 more front-line agents and better training, and it's paying off. The most recent figures from Energywatch show that our complaint levels have fallen by 82% since April. We know we still have challenges ahead and we're not complacent – but we're making real progress on our customer service.”

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