Scottish Power, Ovo Energy and British Gas must “urgently” improve their customer service after a survey found they are the worst energy suppliers for responding quickly and effectively to problems, Which? said.

The watchdog said “all too often” consumers were being left on hold, stuck in never-ending chatbot loops or passed from department to department with no resolution or helpful answer to their query.

Energy is currently the worst performing sector for customer service, according to Which?’s 2023 customer service survey. That is particularly unacceptable when soaring bills have driven the cost-of-living crisis and led to “huge” profits for many suppliers, the consumer group said.

Scottish Power, Ovo Energy and British Gas were the worst performing energy firms for quick responses and effective solutions to customer problems, the survey found.

(PA Graphics)

Scottish Power came bottom, receiving a satisfaction score of minus 13 out of a possible 100 for how long it took to get in touch with a person who could help, and a score of three for how long it took to get an answer to an issue or query.

One customer said that after being left on hold when trying to phone his supplier about a billing issue, and then speaking to an agent who was unable to help, he suffered sleepless nights and anxiety over the unresolved problem.

Another said he lived in fear of a visit from bailiffs after Scottish Power passed him from agent to agent and failed to fix an incorrect bill.

Ovo Energy followed closely with a satisfaction score of minus seven for how long it took to get in touch with a person who could help and seven for how long it took to get an answer to an issue or query.

British Gas fared slightly better with a satisfaction score of 16 for the length of time it took to get in touch with a person who could help and 23 for getting an answer to an issue or query.

However, its scores were still far below Octopus Energy, who performed best for quick and effective customer service, achieving a score of 46 for how long it took to get in touch with a person who could help and 55 for how long it took to get an answer to an issue or query.

E.On Next also performed relatively well, scoring 35 in the first category and 25 in the second one.

One British Gas customer told how she spent 43 hours on the phone and sent 24 emails trying to fix a billing issue for more than a year. She said staff lacked empathy, causing her distress as she was made to repeatedly explain that her husband had died.

Another found himself stuck at 830th in the queue for an online chat after struggling to find any phone numbers for British Gas customer service.

Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said: “Scottish Power, Ovo Energy and British Gas all fared poorly in Which? research on which firms are best for giving quick and effective solutions when things go wrong. Failings in this area are particularly unacceptable when sky-high energy prices have left families and households struggling to make ends meet.

“While many consumers will rightly consider switching, these firms must urgently make improvements so all customers are getting the standard of service and support they need and deserve.”

A ScottishPower spokeswoman said a “more robust” study by Citizens Advice found 98% of customer emails were responded to within two days, and the firm’s average speed of answering phone enquiries was under 110 seconds.

She said: “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.”

British Gas said: “We’re investing over £50 million in customer service. This includes hiring 700 more UK-based contact centre staff at the end of last year and introducing longer call centre opening times.

“We’re also helping our most vulnerable customers through our sector leading £140m customer support package.

“It’s important that data used by Which? reflects the here and now and isn’t behind the curve.”

Ovo said its own data from this year showed its average speed for answering customer calls was around one minute, while 96% of customers who sent emails received a response within two working days.

An Ovo spokeswoman said: “The Which? findings are unrepresentative of the typical service levels our teams work very hard to provide. Our customers reach us via phone in just over a minute and our teams respond to emails within two working days.

“Whilst we recognise that we don’t always get it right, our customer data suggests that seven out of 10 customers are ‘very satisfied’ with the service they receive from us. We recognise that there is always more to be done and we are committed to listening to and learning from feedback.”