Scottish Power faces sales curb for slow call answering
Energy supplier Scottish Power has a three-month deadline to improve customer service or it will be banned from sales to new customers.
Regulator Ofgem said the company must answer customers' calls quicker, reduce a backlog of bills and act on outstanding ombudsman rulings.
Any missed targets set by Ofgem would result in a ban on "proactive sales activities".
Scottish Power said it was taking on more staff to improve its service.
The company also faces a separate investigation by Ofgem into the way it treats its customers.
Scottish Power has signed up to the targets set by Ofgem to:
- Reduce the amount of time customers are left waiting on the phone from an average of three minutes to two minutes by the end of January. The regulator found a quarter of all callers to Scottish Power gave up on the call
- Cut the number of overdue bills from 75,000 to 30,000 by the end of December
- Remove a backlog in acting on rulings made by the ombudsman by the end of November
The company must publish its progress every month.
"ScottishPower's customers are experiencing unacceptably long call waiting times and a drastic drop in overall customer satisfaction," said Sarah Harrison, of Ofgem.
"In a properly functioning market we would expect companies to compete keenly on service. The need for our intervention here is yet more evidence that the energy market is not working for consumers."
Neil Clitheroe, chief executive of Scottish Power retail and generation, said that the shift to a new customer service system had been "challenging".
"We unreservedly apologise for these problems. It is simply not the high service standard long associated with ScottishPower, nor the customer service standards industry regulator expects.
"We are determined to put it right. We are working hard to make it easier for our customers to contact us and to answer every call, email and complaint as soon as we can."
He said that 250 more customer service staff were being employed, adding to 450 people recruited earlier this year.
A similar threat of a sales ban was issued to Npower in June, following criticism of bills being sent out late.
However, by September, Npower had improved sufficiently to be allowed by the regulator to carry on proactive sales.
In May, Scottish Power was hit with a £750,000 penalty by the regulator following an investigation into price differences between payment methods.
Suppliers can charge different prices if customers pay in different ways, such as by cheque every quarter or by a cheaper monthly direct debit. The pricing should reflect the different costs involved in collecting these payments.
The Energy Ombudsman reported its highest number of complaints from consumers in October than any other month on record.