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The prize for awful customer service goes to…

One energy company has a particularly dire track record when it comes to customer service, as Which? chief executive Peter Vicary-Smith knows only too well.

Atrocious. Pathetic. These are some of the printable descriptions you’ve sent us about a company that has been a consistent performer in our satisfaction surveys – finishing bottom for its industry seven years in a row.

One such result may be regarded as a misfortune; seven times requires extraordinary incompetence. Step forward Npower.

Bad customer service

I’ve had the ‘pleasure’ of experiencing this first-hand since I moved house last August to a property with slightly complicated meter arrangements – it had been a holiday-let business as well as a home.

This meant that a business tariff applied to some of the property. Incumbent supplier Npower was given a meter reading but still tried to apply a bill for hundreds of pounds – presumably on the basis that I was running a small factory.

My meter reading, it would seem, had disappeared into a hole.

Staff continually denied that I (or rather my account) existed.

One set of customer service staff told me not to pay the business bill. Fine. But their counterparts sitting at the business customer desk began chasing me for not paying the bill their domestic colleagues had instructed me to ignore. The left and right hands saw no merit in communicating with each other.

Worst of the energy suppliers for staff knowledge

It’s no surprise to me that, of all the energy suppliers, you identified Npower as the one with the least knowledgeable staff in our new survey of the best and worst customer call centres.

It took eight months of emails, unreturned calls, endless waiting on the line – often 20 minutes before a human deigned to answer – conversations that went in circles and a folder full of contradictory bills and correspondence before I got a proper bill and acknowledgement that I existed. More importantly, it meant I could switch.

Npower’s customer score in our 2015 energy companies survey was a pitiful 35%. In comparison, four top-rated energy suppliers have a customer score of more than 80% – Ebico, Ecotricity, Good Energy and Ovo Energy.

One respondent summed up their experience of Npower like this: ‘They have no interest in customers; customers are a necessary evil.’ This description will ring true for thousands – it certainly does for me.

Have you experienced particularly good or bad customer service? What do you think the energy companies can do to improve their customer service?

Comments
Member

I nominate Apple for good service. They carried out repairs free-of-charge on my MacBook Pro, estimated at over £840, free of charge. I had learned that my computer might be eligible for free repair thanks to an article on Which? Tech Daily and I cannot fault the service on the phone (I carried out numerous tests directed by a technician) and in the Apple Store.

Perhaps Scottish Power deserves a prize for awful service for increasing my direct debit by 40% despite the fact I was in credit – without even informing me by email. Since then the have reduced the direct debit to less than it was in the first place.

Member

I forgot to mention that the computer was three and a half years old and had been used heavily.

Member

Wavechange Scottish Power reduced my Direct Debit to a very unrealistic amount two months before the end of my fixed tariff in an attempt (I assume) to dupe me into believing I would be better off with them and I ended up in debit as a result which I have now settled and switched to Ovo Energy one of the medium suppliers recommended by Which? I have since received slightly cheaper offers from SP but have declined stating that service was as important to me as price and I was happy to pay what amounted to a couple of pounds extra in return for better service and also in an attempt to discourage the big 6 monopoly.

I am wondering why you haven’t switched yet if you are unhappy with the service you receive from Scottish Power.

Member

I think the arbitrary raising of direct debits by the energy companies should be outlawed. They seem to make no allowance for the fact that we are now entering the warmer season and will have four months with significantly lower heating bills. They take the Autumn and Winter quarters’ consumption, extrapolate that across the year and say “we’re increasing your monthly payment”. They certainly shouldn’t amend the deduction before you find out about it. My energy supplier does at least tell me before it actually happens but I would still like to have the option of thinking about taking further energy conservation measures and other economies. Moreover, they should not assume that people’s bank accounts can accommodate an increase in their monthly outgoings at a moment’s notice; they might have to cut something else out in order to afford it, which in turn might involve giving notice. More people today are over-committed than under-committed I expect.

Member

Beryl – After a difficult switchover from e.on to Scottish Power (possibly not all the fault of SP), I had no problem whatsoever and renewed for a further year. The substantial increase in direct debit did not cause me problems, but a 40% increase without prior notification could have taken some people into an overdraft, with associated charges. I look forward to hearing of how you get on with Ovo.

Member

Will keep you posted Wavechange.

Member
Jane Frost says:
5 June 2015

Scottish power are doing the same to everyone.

I’ve told them that I look at it yearly.

They were £500plus the £300 plus in credit in the last two years.

One penny over this year and I’m gone.

Member

After I submitted my last meter readings on-line to Scottish Power a window popped up proposing to increase my monthly payments. As this was at the start of summer, I was already slightly in credit and I was already paying £2pm more than the monthly amount THEY predicted when I re-signed to a new 12 month Contract in March, I was a little surprised.

However, I did find it very simple to refuse their proposed rise and as I recall it is relatively easy to just change your monthly DD payment on-line on the SP website.

I bank with a building society and not Scottish Power, so like everyone else I do not wish to run a large credit balance. Having said that, I am sure that most of us also find it beneficial to even out our payments over the year, rather than face stiff bills during the winter.

I fully accept that on-line account management is of no help to those not online.