Utility call centres provide poor customer service

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A new report from Citizens Advice reveals that gas, electricity and telecoms companies are still failing on customer service.

CAB evidence on contacting utility companies shows how too many people are still being forced to spend long periods of time hanging on the telephone to their utility companies trying to get their problems resolved. Nearly a third (32%) of people completing a survey on the charity’s adviceguide website had to spend more than 30 minutes on the phone to their utility company.
Many were unable to resolve their problem in just one call and even though many utility companies provide lo-call or freephone numbers for their customers to contact them, those without a landline can rack up huge bills or run out of credit trying to get through on their mobile phones.

Advisers in Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales face the same problems when seeking to contact utility companies on behalf of clients. The impact on the Citizens Advice service is so huge that the charity estimates that bureaux could help up to 55,000 extra people a year if calls from advisers to utility companies on behalf of clients lasted no more than ten minutes.

An Ipsos MORI survey carried out among a representative sample of adults in Great Britain for Citizens Advice revealed that even though there was some improvement since the last Citizens Advice report in 2004, utility call centres are still the worst performing call centres. More than 1 in 4 (27%) customers who had contacted a utility company by telephone in the last 12 months stated they were dissatisfied with the way in which their call had been handled. This compared to 16% for those who had contacted a financial services company call centre and 17% for those who had contacted a retailer.

Telephone and gas companies fared the worst. The on-line adviceguide website survey, found that 9 out of 10 (89%) respondents were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the way their last call to a landline provider had been handled. 87% of these were calls to BT, considerably more than BT’s 68% share of the domestic landline market. For those contacting a gas supplier 81% of respondents were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the way their last call had been handled. 71% of these were calls to British Gas which holds a 46% market share.

Citizens Advice is urging companies to improve customer service standards, but says that currently there are too few incentives for suppliers to improve their performance. It is calling on regulators to require fuel and telecoms suppliers to provide up-to-date information about customer satisfaction, as well as costs. Its online survey found that almost all people would make use of this information when choosing a supplier.

Citizens Advice also says that the need for utility companies to improve customer service is set to get even more pressing as the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act 2007 will place an increased focus on companies’ internal processes for handling complaints. The charity says that it is imperative that energy suppliers make substantial improvements in customer service now.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive David Harker said:

“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.

“I would simply like to ask the Chief Executives of all the utility supply companies, and especially British Telecom and British Gas if they could investigate the issues in our report and make improvements. Many companies say publicly that they support the work of the Citizens Advice service and one very simple way they could put that into practice and help us do our job is to improve the service they deliver to their customers on the frontline. Our advisers would prefer that the problems they are asked to help with just did not happen in the first place.”

Published On: 4th Feb 2008 - Last modified: 11th Sep 2019
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