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Customer service questionnaire results

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Rob Unsworth - editor | 15:54 UK time, Monday, 4 May 2009

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We set up an online questionnaire to find out exactly what Watchdog viewers think of the customer service they experience every single day.

So - did you say it's getting better or worse? And when it's bad do you just sit back and take it or have we in Britain finally learned how to complain?

Huge response to the online questionnaire
Our questionnaire was open for just under two days but we had a massive response with 7,120 logging on to answer our six questions.

We went to meet a few people who know all about good service, a Saville Row tailor and the Duke of Edinburgh's barber. They stressed how important it is to know the customer and to ensure that their expectations are met.

But is this kind of customer service the exception or the norm these days? We asked two experts what they thought of the standard of customer service in the UK.

Advice from TV Dragon
Deborah Meaden is a successful businesswoman and Dragon on the TV programme Dragons' Den. She thinks standards are higher than ever.

She says: "In the UK, I've experienced some of the best customer service in the world. I've also experienced some of the worst. People are much more aware of the importance of good service to their customers. The customer is absolutely king, customer care is the most important thing you will ever, ever get in the business."

Why customer service should be improving
Sarah Willingham is an entrepreneur who has made a fortune in the restaurant trade and believes that customer service needs a lot of improvement.

Sarah says: "Well, sadly, I think that at the moment, in the economic environment when actually it ought to be getting better, I think a lot of companies fall very, very short."

Customer service is getting worse
The results from the Watchdog questionnaire are clear. Nearly three quarters said that customer service is getting worse - 5,169 of you. Just 437 thought it was getting better and the rest said it was about the same.

Just 28 people told us they never experience poor customer service and around half, well over 3,000 people said they came across it every single week.

Sarah Willingham said she wasn't surprised by this result. "I think what's happening is that businesses now are seeing customer service as something that costs them lots of money, like training, customer service is the same thing and so they're outsourcing it. They're not focusing on it at all."

So what do we do about all that bad service? It used to be that the British didn't like to make a fuss. But has that all changed?

Nearly half of the people who took part in the online questionnaire said that when they get bad service they do nothing. They take it on the chin and leave it at that.

Most people would complain
But, perhaps, as a nation we're changing. Because even more of you - 3,626 - said you would complain.

Those of you who complained tended to have the worst service from phone, TV and broadband providers and especially the utility companies.

But although bad service can crop anywhere there's one place where, you told us, you get it the most: over the phone. Almost two thirds of the people who took part in our questionnaire - 4,618 of you - said the most annoying customer service they'd come across was when they were dealing with a company helpline or call centre.

Bad service can crop anywhere. But there's one place where, you told us, you get it the most: over the phone. Almost two thirds of the people who took part in our questionnaire - 4,618 of you - said the most annoying customer service they'd come across was when they were dealing with a company helpline or call centre.

"To me, by the time we've got to the call centre we already have a problem," said Deborah Meaden.

"Customer service should be about getting the service right in the first place. And I think to kind of subcontract that out to a call centre can sometimes be the wrong thing to do.

"It doesn't matter who deals with it as long as they have the authority, the power, the understanding to actually get to the bottom of and deal with your problem and quickly."

There's no doubt about it - it's how you're dealt with over the phone that really gets you the most. And what's more annoying than a company that just won't answer?

We've put some of the worst offenders to the test. Watch the customer service phone test report to find out just how long some of them kept us hanging on the line.


  • Comment number 1.

    customer services at talktalk are unbelievably bad the staff are rude and i feel theres no point in taking up any issues with them i will be changing telephone and broadband supplier as soon as my 18 month contract is ended

    on the other hand i often do my grocery shopping online and i cant fault the customer services at tesco or asda the staff are so helpful and really o sort out your problems in minutes
    well done tesco and asda

  • Comment number 2.

    Customer Service at Sky and BT is diabolical in my experience.

    To set up a BT line I had to wait for 2 hours and they told me they were integrating a new system, hence the wait. When the line wasn't activated 3 weeks later I ran back and waited an hour and they told me they were integrating a new system! Wasted hours on the phone - had to make at least 5 calls each with more than 30 minute wait time.

    Sky - useless. Less long to wait for calls to be answered but the guy from Sky saying his customer service staff are the best made me laugh! If they don't like your question/request they transfer you to a random department or cut you off! I cancelled Sky movies and when it hadn't gone through on the date it should have I rang back and was called a liar as they claimed I had imagined the call where I cancelled my service!

    Finally quit BT and Sky and am well shot of them both. The only way of getting through to these companies is by a mass withdrawal of custom so join me now!!!

  • Comment number 3.

    I phoned voadafone and was kept waiting for 25mins, when i finally got through to a real person they simply said the same as on the show "complain by using the website please!" I was very annoyed at this point, therefore I did complain via the website,leaving my email address and home address i thaught i would get a response and possibly an apology. 2 1/2 years later im still waiting for a response
    do you call that good customer service?
    i cirtainly dont !

  • Comment number 4.

    I like the system used by Bensons for Beds.
    When you phone, you are told how long you will have to wait and you are given the options of holding on or hanging up and trying again later in, say 10 minutes.
    When you phone later, you are told that your telephone number has been recognised and how long you will have to wait again for a live person, who usually answers quite promptly. Full marks!
    I too find TalkTalk Customer "services" very poor - usually cannot understand a word they say!

  • Comment number 5.

    If is there anyone thinking that waiting 2hrs on the phone is a long time for customer service ? Ha...I was ringing Home office Border agency for 2/5 days and just got answering machine telling me to ring before 11am or after 6pm..because they so busy..when i finally got to talk to someone I bin told that i have to ring another number.....that was hilarious!

  • Comment number 6.

    Customer Services at [retailer removed] are unbelievably bad. When you finally get through to someone they are never the person who can deal with your problem they always have to pass you on to someone else.
    If you have afault ion a product it can take a minimum of one week to get an engineer out to investigate the problem, they are never able to fix a problem on the first call, it then takes a further minimum of one week to get another engineer out with a part to attempt to fix the problem. So one problem to get first attempt at a fix is 2-3 weeks, if that doesnt work then you repeat the same cycle for another two to three weeks (total now at 4-6 weeks)
    I had nine engineering visits many phone calls and letters to the Managing Director over eleven months for the same problem before Comet finally agreed to replace the machine.

  • Comment number 7.

    Im not saying call canter staff are Angels but neither are Customer...

    What gets me is most people complaint about the time it takes to get through to a contact center, but do most people realise that if the correct options on the IVR were selected it would cut down on the time customers are actually waiting. All it means that the customer who has selected the wrong options has to wait while the Customer Service Rep completes Data Protection Act question then they have get through to the correct department for them and transfered.

    Also when a customer does come through they advise how long they have been waiting. From my experience it takes 2 mintues for a customer to advise how long they have been waiting to get through. This means the 6th person in the call queue is now be waiting 10 minutes longer than needed due to the other 5 people telling you how long they have been waiting.

    Do people honestly think call center staff are having a party when there is over 100 people in a call queue? We are working as hard as possible trying to anwser all the calls. And when we do answer your call we are shouted at, threated and the swearing can sometimes get to much. We are just people at the end of the phone. Would you want to help someone who has just told you "Your **** usless" and they are going to come to your contact center and hurt you all because THEY havent paid THEIR bill and THEY have chosen the wrong the option on the IVR so you have to transfer them?

    How would it affect you on a daily basis?

  • Comment number 8.

    Re: This evening's show.

    I think Watchdog let those companies with poor customer service off the hook tonight. Quite apart from the presenters taking an age to get to the point, they only concentrated on the speed of response, and that's an easy one for the likes of Vodafone and BT to wriggle out of.

    Next time Watchdog approaches the issue, it should delve a little deeper. Ask why these companies think contracting out call centres to India "good for the customer" when in reality it's only good for the profit margin. Ask why call centre staff are restricted to working from a script and what do they do when the customer's enquiry strays outside that script? Ask them why they always adopt the policy they they are right and the customer is wrong (which sounds uncannily like the DVLA piece that's been running).

    I've recently had problems with BT and their so called customer service; bogged down in India when I knew the problem I had was a technical issue at their local exchange. I had to threaten to take my business elsewhere, twice, in order to get them to deviate from their line that I must be at fault. Three weeks of aggravation ensued before I was finally referred to the exchange engineer who resolved the issue in 25 minutes; a fault in the local exchange would you believe? The complaint process failed too, when the complaint letter was routed to India (despite being addressed to Durham) and I was back in the Indian loop again. Recently I cancelled my services with BT for a specific date in May and they promptly terminated one of the services on that very day, some six weeks early. I complained about that and have been roundly ignored.

    It's not just BT either, with Hewlett-Packard and PC World down there with the worst of them. Indeed, I was offered the chance to write to HP's CEO and explain why I felt they'd failed in their service to me. Naturally I suggested (politely) that the CEO might like to try calling his own helpline to gauge the depths to which his company had sunk. I had a very nice reply to say that the CEO had lots of letters and my views would be taken on board. Actually they meant ignored.

    Customer service, even when the phone has been answered, is a dirty word for so many companies these days. Contracted out, it's an unsightly carbuncle on the shiny face of the big corporation.

    The only way to deal with this charade is to take our business to those companies that do care about their customers; if they exist of course!

  • Comment number 9.

    I watched your programme with interest tonight regarding customer services as I guessed Sky would would come out on top

    My experience with Sky was way back in September when I was having numerous problems regarding reception and over a a period of around 5 days I spent a total of 8 hours on the phone to Sky, getting cut off on many occasions. I also have to say when you do get through they are the most courteous and helpful people to speak to. I even got a couple of credits from them because of the problems I was encountering and I must also add that the problems was due to a company called Avonline (A sub contractor of Sky) It was a long battle between the two companies as I had lost around 30 channels and neither would take responsibilty.

    The ironic part is that Watchdog covered this story of missing channels and as I kept telling both parties "move the transponder" it turns out that as Watchdog sent engineers to various properties that is all they had to do....move the dish or transponder.

    Hence to say I am still having problems and have now cancelled Sky Movies, Sky Music, and various others losing Sky approx £20 a month and if that is what they call good business sense then I feel sorry for them BUT DO THEY FEEL SORRY FOR US "THE VIEWING PUBLIC" the answer is NO as there are more repeats on Sky Tele then anywhere else

  • Comment number 10.

    Vodaphone are really slow to answer, but if you are phoning from your mobile at least it is free, thats assuming you have hours of battery life on the phone, even when you cancel contract etc you get the hard sell to go some other route ie pay as you go deals etc.

  • Comment number 11.

    If Franz Kafka were alive today he'd be writing about customer service.
    - Jonathan Alter

    A quote I found that is going into mt 25th letter (interspered with numerous phone calls) over a 9 month period to get 3 to resolve my issue. I'll agree that they do answer the phone quickly, just not (in my experience) leading to any satisfactory response.

  • Comment number 12.

    I have just had a 1 hour 7 min wait to get through to Indesit Customer Services, when i did speak to someone the lady put me through to another department and another 17 min wait. That's nearly 1 1/2 hour wasted.

    I agree with tattyteddy82 and patchalfont, TalkTalk must be the worst, closly followed by Indesit.

  • Comment number 13.

    I was previously a customer with Tiscalli/Pipex broadband, when i cancelled my broadband they continued to take money out my bank account. So i cancelled my direct debit. I got a final demand on a payment 3 months after i cancelled my contract. I phoned and complained (after waiting an hour to speak to someone!!) and was promised it would be resolved. I then recieved a notification of legal proceedings for the sum that i never owed in the first place!!

    I took me A LOT of phonecalls to the company and 5 emails of complaints and i had to pay it myself before bailiffs threatrened to retrieve the sum!! Eventually after 6 months and a lot of fighting and a exspensive phone bill i was told that i was always in credit to the company and was given my money back!!

    All this hassle for he sum of £14.99!! And i dont know if this has affected my credit rating!!!

  • Comment number 14.

    Customer service reps:

    If you can't stand the heat: GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN!

    Noone is holding a gun to your head and making you work at a company with poor customer (and staff) service. Your stress levels will decline markedly.

  • Comment number 15.

    Abysmal call centres:

    The very best call centres I have dealt with are in India. They're also in the UK, Netherlands, South Africa and various other places.

    The worst call centres I have dealt with are in the UK, closely followed by ones located in India and the Philippines.

    The _absolute_ worst call centres I have dealt with are UK government departments - in particular the Home Office, councils(*) and the DVLA. This appears to be because call centre staff in such organisations have _zero_ accountability and apparently seem to be being ordered to flat out lie to cover departmental failings. (Eg: DVLA staff stating "we are never wrong")

    (*)SOME councils have extremely good, highly efficient call centres. It is a pity that the majority do not.

    Excessive hold times:

    As a result of widespread abuse, Ofcom finally introduced regulations about 2 years ago which prohibit exccessive hold times on premium rate, 084* and 087* numbers (the wording covers any form of call where the caller pays fees over and above contracted telco charges for a local call)

    Such regulations are widely flouted by many companies and it is clear many outfits still see these types of call as a way of supplementing income.

    (0845 is not "local rate", it is "Low-call rate")

    Intimidatory tactics by poorly performing companies:

    Ironically, while the very worst outfits make a great play out of informing callers that they are being recorded, staff take great offence to being told that one is returning the favour and making one's own recording.

    Many call centre staff attempt to claim that making a recording is illegal and that they will refuse to deal with a customer who is making his/her own recording. In my opinion, this is a clear sign of not wanting to be held accountable for malfeasance.

    If making a recording of telephone calls was illegal, The BBC would have been prosecuted many times over airing of "secret recordings". Regulations covering making such recordings are very clear about what is or isn't allowed and any recording where one or other party is aware of the recording taking place is allowed. There is no requirement to inform the other party that it's happening. (This is also the USA federal/interstate case, but some USA states and less enlightened countries require both parties are aware of recordings taking place.)

    (UK law: A recording which has been made without the knowledge of both parties has some limitations for publication or use in court, but a transcript of such a recording is both publishable plus legally admissable and a court can then issue an order for the original tape to be produced for verification.)

    Under UK law, the only type of illegal recording is where neither party is aware of the recording taking place and no court order has been obtained allowing that to happen (ie, security services.police are allowed to make such recordings _with a court order_ otherwise it's illegal.)

    NOTE: All kinds of recordings are legally admissable in all cases where documentation of criminal activity _in progress_ is being made - such as breaches of the TPA or vandals on the street, etc (and the recordings are allowed to be continued in such a way as to clearly identify the people involved.) The DPA has explicit exemptions for videoing criminal actvities as a f'instance, even if the Met Police would like to think otherwise.

  • Comment number 16.

    What I do object to with holding on when I phone customer services or in fact most firms is that they are all hiugh cost numbers starting 0845, 0870 etc.

  • Comment number 17.

    I can't believe this I've been waiting 1 hour 33 minutes so far for someone to pick up the phone at SKY. No Wonder Watchdog rated it the worse :(

  • Comment number 18.

    my complaint is with Pipex who have taken over from Toucan. My mother was with Toucan and her bill was paid by direct debit. When it changed they did not inform her of the change so she was unaware that payments had not been taken as the direct debit had not been transferred. They cut her off and sent a bill in for £10. We paid the bill nearly a month ago but still they have not reactivated her service despite us constantly ringing them. They use the data protection act as an excuse so they don't have to help us. My mother cannot phone them to give her permission for them to speak to us as they have cut her off. They won't ring her as they aren't allowed to make phone calls so how are we supposed to deal with this. I forgot to mention my mother is 82yrs old with low vision, very hard of hearing, very frail, prone to falls, prone to strokes and lives in a village that has no phone box, she has just recently had her second knee replacement and walks very badly. She has a Careline but it is attached to the phone line so she has no means of seeking help if she falls but Pipex callously just ignore this fact

  • Comment number 19.

    As someone who works in a call centre I have a few points for the general public (and watchdog presenters!) to consider:
    1) People only ever call to complain. Most of my day is spent being shouted at, even abused by customers I'm trying to help! It is VERY VERY rare someone says thank you to me and I've been in this call centre 5 years. We are human and it hurts to be abused by customers but we have no choice but to take it.
    2) As a company, we admit we make mistakes and we try to fix what is our fault as well as errors that aren't even ours! For some callers that doesn't seem to be good enough though! I have lost count of the times a caller has blamed me because they did not read the forms and fill them in correctly or worse they are actually trying something illegal and have been caught out and then have the cheek to ask for compensation! Has our customer service failed because the customer got it wrong, as they sometimes do? How many times a day do I apologise for something we have or haven't done, even when it's nothing to do with us! I want the problem fixed too you know!
    3) Like many places, we have a computerised IVR to help direct a customer to the correct department. Customers want it easy so we give simple IVR options. Then these same customers complain they are talking to a machine and want a human! If customers don't follow the instructions they go round in circles - was that pointed out in the survey!! We watch our telecasters and are always mindful of the number of callers waiting and how quickly we deal with them. I am incentivised on it! I would like to have my own calls answered immediately but as I know how the system works, I know it won't happen when I need to call another call centre! Many times i have watched a caller on our teleaster who is trappd in the system rack up anything up to 10 minutes before the call ends! We can't help them.

    Rather than the watchdog staff complaining so much about call centres, I challenge them to come and spend a day working in a call centre and getting shouted at all day for 7 hours and see how they feel! We certainly don't ask for it; sometimes there is no pleasing a customer! Especially so when the computer crashes and you have the pressure of 70 calls waiting and knowing that everyone of them will shout at you when they do get through, meaning all the rest have to wait even longer to get through and get progressively more annoyed!

    Watchdog, you cannot measure service simply on how long it takes to answer a call!

    Working in a call centre is tough, why do you think most people only last 6 months? I love being able to resolve, help and fix problems. I don't like the bad name we get nor the abuse I have to put up with! I often get asked if I'm in India or speak English - what an insult!

    Can I make particular refference to the jibe at the end of the show about I wonder if any of them offer a call back service? Well, that's EXACTLY what I spend my day doing!! We call customers back to save their phone bills and STILL get shouted at for it! So less of the smart comments please!

  • Comment number 20.

    I agree with Katebawx. Both BT and Sky have been charging me for calls and each are pointing the finger at the other. Each refuses to acknowledge that they may have made a mistake, because one of them has and I know its not me, and Sky keep hanging up on me when I call.
    Today BT cut off my phone sevice and I had to pay a bill of 97 quid to get put back on, so I begrudgingly paid it and cancelled all services. Tomorrow I shall endeavour to do the same with Sky,If they dont hang up again, and look for different service providers because between them they couldnt find the proverbial with both hands.

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