Uk energy regulator Ofgem reports that customers are increasingly dissatisfied with their energy providers’ customer service. However, those registered with small energy suppliers seem to be bucking the trend.
Since 2018, the number of customers dissatisfied with their energy provider’s customer service has risen from 26% to 33%. But what has changed in that time, and which providers stand out for exceptional – or exceptionally bad – customer support?
Trouble getting in touch
The biggest single driver of customer dissatisfaction is how difficult customers find it to reach their supplier’s support team. In fact, this is what prompted Ofgem’s current consumer consultation into customer ease of contact.
Customers struggling to reach support teams became a more serious issue at the beginning of international Covid restrictions. As call centres and offices reduced operations and switched to remote work, support line opening hours were cut and hold queues of more than an hour became commonplace.
However, many energy providers have failed to make the expected comeback following the end of Covid restrictions. Energy companies currently have the longest customer wait times of any industry in the UK, with an average hold of more than 35 minutes.
Across the UK, 26% of customers reported that their supplier was difficult or very difficult to contact. In Scotland, less than half of energy customers think their supplier makes it easy to be contacted.
Customers were more likely to report that reaching their supplier was difficult if they were digitally excluded (32%), which highlights the importance of good customer support phone lines as well as live chat and email. Despite the push to an all-digital world, phones are still the most common contact method customers use to reach their suppliers.
Customers of small energy suppliers have fewer complaints
Independently of their investigation into customer difficulties reaching their supplier and billing issues, Ofgem also publishes a quarterly report of complaints made about each energy supplier per 100,000 customers.
In it, they found that a customer of a large energy company was more than four times more likely to make a complaint than customers of small energy companies in the first part of 2023.
Complaints against small energy companies are also trending downward following the end of Covid restrictions. Since early 2020 complaints against small energy suppliers have dropped by more than 70%. During the same period, complaints against large suppliers rose by 20%.
In fact, despite the dominant market share large energy companies still command, small energy suppliers consistently outperform them across customer satisfaction metrics.
In Which’s independent ranking of energy suppliers across all categories, only one of the top five companies had more than one million customers. That supplier, Octopus Energy, is a newer entry to the market than suppliers of a similar size and has distinguished itself in part by offering high-quality customer service.
Otherwise, smaller suppliers consistently outscore giants like British Gas, OVO and E.On Next.
Improving energy supplier customer service
The aim of Ofgem’s current consultation is to get feedback on how energy companies can improve their customer service, but they already have a proposal for changes to current licence conditions.
If passed, energy companies will be required to have a customer enquiry line available outside of normal business hours. They will also have to offer a 24/7 support service for customers without electricity or gas.
Energy suppliers will also have to do more to identify and support vulnerable customers who are having trouble paying their bills. This means prioritising these customers when they get in contact, as well as offering repayment plans and holidays where these are needed.
While Ofgem works to ensure that every UK energy customer receives this level of service, in the meantime it’s worth seeking out a supplier who already has these policies in place. Many companies, including small energy suppliers, already offer support teams available by phone outside of standard 9-5 hours.
With great value fixed-rate tariffs back on the market, switching energy providers is once again a simple way to secure your energy tariff against future price hikes. Combining this with finding a provider with excellent customer service can mean the switch saves you time, money and frustration all at once.
Want to learn more about switching energy providers? Book a free call with one of our Connections Experts today.
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