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Just how far would you go for good customer service?

Angry customer

Would you pay more? Shop around longer? Or switch supplier? Nearly eight in 10 of us say customer service is important when deciding which companies to use – but that doesn’t always translate into action.

Thousands of us are still customers of the worst performing firms, according to our latest customer service survey. Firms languishing at the bottom of our table include Scottish Power, nPower, BT and TalkTalk.

Nearly nine in 10 people told us that poor service puts them off using a company again, so companies have a clear incentive to offer a service that makes customers smile.

So why are we still handing over our hard-earned cash to these companies in droves?

Perhaps when it comes to essential services, such as energy and telecoms, we don’t feel we have much of a choice. And although switching should be easy, maybe customers don’t see that it will make much difference?

Speak out against bad service

Call me pig-headed, but I’m quite unforgiving. I work hard for my money and hate the idea of giving it to a firm which treats me badly.

So when an engineer from my old energy provider didn’t turn up to service my boiler several times in row, I complained, got a refund – and then promptly cancelled the contract.

But there comes a point when making a principled stand has practical implications.

I wasn’t impressed when my supermarket sent me some almost out-of-date sausages during a recent online grocery order. But a quick apology and generous refund quickly dampened the flames of my anger. My weekly shop is well established with them and it seems like a lot of hassle to set up a new account with a rival supermarket. So I continue to shop with them.

In-store frustrations

In our survey a few issues emerged that frustrate us the most. Nearly half of people said they were irritated by call centres not being based in the UK; around a third dislike automated telephone systems; and a third were annoyed about being passed around lots of different people. Sound familiar?

Feeling powerless is one of the most frustrating aspects of bad customer service: but that’s exactly why companies dishing out bad service think they can get away with it.

And, in turn, that’s precisely why we should vote with our feet (and wallets) – as well as remaining loyal to the good guys.

Just how far would you go to get decent customer service? And at what stage do practicalities win out over principles when it comes to making a stand?

Useful links

See the best and worst brands for customer service


FYI we’ve popped out a tweet about Scottish Power coming bottom for customer service: https://twitter.com/WhichUK/status/644080815916187649 Our customer service survey story is trending on Twitter at the moment, with newspaper and TV coverage far and wide. You can see some of the coverage here.

Perhaps we should come up with general terms & conditions for consumers and ask companies to agree to them before they accept our business. For example, not using our contact details for marketing or passing on to other organisations, not charging existing customers more than new ones, and not ignoring whatever criticism is frequently made of your company.

I want to deal with companies that publicise details of how to contact them directly – email, address and landline phone – so if things go wrong I can easily talk to someone. I prefer an email address rather than a form on the web so I can attach a picture or document if need be, and keep a record.

I see a balance sometimes between getting a good price and tolerating a bit of “difficulty”. I do deal with some companies with allegedly poor customer service – Scottish Power for example – but have used them because of a more competitive deal. As I don’t normally need to contact them I can tolerate some hassle, but I usually find by approaching the right person when I have had a problem it gets dealt with satisfactorily. I use ceoemail.com if I need to escalate a problem – finds company directors’ details – start at the top!

I judge businesses not so much on whether or not things go wrong, but instead their approach when things do go wrong.

That’s fair NFH.

Most businesses I’ve come across do their level best to sort things when something goes wrong, even when it is outwith their control. Stuff goes wrong all the time, often nothing to do with the company you’re dealing with and in my own business most customers would never know, we just fix it. Where we can’t, you let people know and offer whatever solution you can. Not hard.

For own business it’s usually inbound deliveries and whatever courier service that causes things we can’t control but most people are fine about it as they do understand when we find out why and let people know.

Malcolm you’d like what we do… phone, email, online support system, live chat help, forums, web forms.. almost a case of, you name it, we use it. Direct number and a low cost one on virtually every store page, along with address.

If someone says they can’t get in touch, it’s kinda hard to believe.

It really isn’t that hard to do and I don’t understand why any company would make that difficult.

The only thing I would do is say that, often these days, that phone isn’t the best way to do things. Email usually proves more effective as many if not most businesses have moved hugely to that as it’s cheap, fast and effective as you can get an email to the right person to answer as quickly as can be.

Bonus is, everyone has a record of what’s happened and when.

I do realise that a number of sectors do want or, even force people to call normally to speak to the “retention team”, I don’t like that as much as other people. 🙁

On pricing for different services, yeah, that happens.

I see it from my perspective with people asking for free shipping, “like the other company” to which the answer you’ve got to put over politely is, sure we can do that but it’ll now be the more expensive and much closer to price as the other company is as well. We don’t offer free shipping, we split it out so people have a choice on what they want and the cost is transparent rather than hidden in a higher price. Most people seem to understand that and get it, some don’t.

For a large company though, the CEO’s email is often deal with by underlings. A PA at best if you’re lucky. The private email addresses will never be openly published.

There are exceptions of course but if you’re wading through hundreds of emails a day you can’t run a business, unless that is your business.


Kenneth – I use CEO email addresses when the alternative is a web form and I want to make a complaint. I need to keep track of the correspondence and may want to send photos. I’m not expecting the CEO to reply.

It annoys me when companies do not include the original message in a communication sent by email or a web form. Sometimes I wish that all companies would follow well established good practice. That means that I have to find my original email and include this if I have to send a follow-up email. Popular reasons that some companies use web forms for initial contact are to prompt customers to provide essential information and to help avoid spam. I’m happy to go along with that provided that further correspondence is by email and I’m told that in the first place.

I prefer companies that offer ‘free’ shipping because this makes price comparison easier and sometimes these charges are silly, certainly on eBay. It is fairly obvious that it is not really free.

I’m not sure what you mean by a low cost phone number, Kenneth. I remember pointing out that local call rates were phased out in 2004, last time we discussed phone charges. 0800 free, 01/02/03 calls included in many contracts, 084/087 have an access charge (depends on service provider) and a service charge (the latter must be stated). 084/087 can’t be used for existing customer service and complaints.

And some people prefer web forms.

So, if you offer as much as possible it suits as many people as possible but, as I’ve said, you can’t please all the people all the time. You seem to find fault with every approach so I guess you’re often left feeling disappointed.

Most businesses cannot pander to every requirement I’m afraid, all the can do is the best that they can with the resource and budget available.

There is no such thing as free shipping. Try going to the Post Office and asking them to send a packet for free on your behalf, after they stop laughing you might get a polite “no sit, we don’t offer a free service”. Nobody ships anything for free.

Most shopping search engines including Google, will break out the shipping cost and/or give you the inclusive price as well so price comparison is simple enough.

Low cost, local call rate from a standard land line.

It’ll probably get dropped though given the hassle surrounding all the 08 numbers as it’s not worth any grief.

And, 084 can be used for those, unless what the area Trading Standards officer told me is untrue/incorrect so long as a standard geographical number is also provided. I think I’ll follow their advice over yours, no offence.


Calum Harris says:
17 September 2015

How about getting your own house in order first, CA?
I have just sent an e-form asking how to unsubscribe from Which? Switch.
I received an automated, immediate response asking why I wanted to leave Which?, having been a member for so long, and telling me the request to leave Which? would be actioned in 3 days.
I replied pointing out that wasn’t the subject of the request.
I got an immediate automated request, telling me to expect a response within 2 days, but it may take longer.
So now I have to make a phone call……………………..

Hi Calum, sorry about that. You emailed and as it knew you wanted to unsubscribe it sent an automated email just to let you know that it had been acknowledged and a human being would be on to it as soon as possible.

I understand you’ve now spoken to our member services team, so I hope everything’s all sorted. Thanks

Which recommended Plusnet Broadband for good customer service. My experience is quite different. For reasons not to do with the service I am trying to cancel my account. Apparently I can only do this by telephone. Yesterday there was a 15 minute delay before anyone picked up the phone. They then put me through to cancellations and I gave up after hanging on for 40 minutes I did this twice. Today Plusnet said there was a 30 minute delay before anyone even picked up. I am completely frustrated and unable to cancel a service I no longer need.

Plusnet are on twitter tweet them before 5pm.

tweet them: @plusnethelp

I’m in the middle of a nightmare having bought brand new Mini Cooper at the end of March that unfortunately has a fault that has not been solved. I have said time and time again over the months that buying one rogue car would not put me off buying another of the same make but what has put me completely off is the treatment I have received. I have been fobbed off by the dealership, by Mini Uk and by Mini Financial Services. Hours of my time has been taken up and still no resolution. I want my money back, it seems very simple to me if they value my custom. As is stands, I have no car to use as the dealer and Mini Uk both say each other is responsible for loaning me a courtesy car. I have had my request for payments (under the PCP agreement) to be frozen refused. I wrote to Mini Financial on 4th August formally rejecting the car (having taken advice from Which legal) and am still waiting. The whole experience is causing me unbelievable stress and I cannot see that I will ever try to buy a brand new car ever again as customer service doesn’t seem to exist in the motor industry. If I wasn’t a member of Which legal service I would have found consumer rights far too complicated to understand and in any case it still hasn’t led to a resolution. It just shouldn’t be like this.

I have now got 3 watches , I cannot get a battery renewed for less than £40.!!! Dos the name Ratner spring to mind !

I am with British Gas and British Telecom. In fact since time began and never with any other supplier. I am not stupid and always seek to achieve the best value for money. I have never had an issue with BT that was not fixed within a matter of hours. British Gas is slightly different but they too have sorted stuff out to my satisfaction. I prefer if possible to avoid excessive administration of household services so switching regularly would only be an option if they were both absolute rubbish. My current personal calculation is that a change is not warranted (YET!)

Some news for you. BT has pledged to answer more than 80% of customer calls in the UK by the end of 2016 under plans to bring back services from overseas.


Our Richard Lloyd said: “Consumers tell us that
call centres not being based in the UK is one of their biggest bugbears,
so it’s good to see BT responding to what their customers want.
Companies that don’t give customers the care and attention they deserve
risk losing out to competitors.”

I did misread this and thought that BT were NOT going to answer the other 20% of UK calls. However even if that were the case they would still be doing better than HMRC.

Jane frost says:
20 September 2015

I’ve tried and tried and tried with Scottish Power,

What they do is give potential customers low rates- then hike up their direct debits .

First year they hiked up my direct debit so that they owed me over £400
Second year over £200.

So I fixed the oayment and came to ( I thought an agreement ) that they would not hike it up again.

Yes.. You’ve guessed it. They did it again.

I’m gone- to Ovo.

Ever bought from Dreams? I have in the past and the service was always good. This time thought it was rubbish. We ordered a Divan bed which we thought judging by the headboard in the picture would come with a headboard. But it didn’t. In the small print which we obviously missed because it was so small it says “headboard not included”. There is no link to the headboard on the webpage and no advice from their customer service team. Their website also says we will assemble your bed for you. It took almost 5 weeks to arrive and then it was dumped in my hallway. However when you get to fine detail you actually have to pay almost £40 for the service which takes as long as five to ten minutes. Thankfully I didn’t sign up for this. The headboard will now take another 4 weeks to arrive because their factory is supposedly at ‘full capacity’. They couldn’t fast track and there was not even the slightest hint of a reduced price for the headboard despite my clear dissatisfaction with their customer service and clarity of their website. I also phoned yesterday and made my complaint know. The agent I spoke to said someone would contact me in 20 minutes. By lunch time today no-one had contacted me so I phoned them again. Customer satisfaction for online ordering through Dreams is 0 out of 100. Be cautious when using their website it is misleading!

Peter Lythgoe says:
24 September 2015

I would like to see this survey backed up by one of employees of all the companies listed to see if there is correlation between customer service and how valued the employees feel by their respective employers.

In your customer service survey the sample size shown for every brand is between 92 and 101. That sounds mighty suspicious to me…

MIke Scott Rohan says:
6 October 2015

Moving house has given me more experience of several customer service centres than I ever wanted. Worst offenders have been Amazon, where one simple delivery needed ten separate phone calls, about twenty e-mails, delivery still went to the wrong address, and then they accused me of posing as an Amazon vendor! And Plusnet, where an attempt to install phone line and broadband took weeks longer than it should, with two missed installations dates, and in between kept me on their customer service line four or five times for an average of one hour — with loud infuriating music — then another hour while they put me through to someone who could help. In all, about ten hours on the phone, plus more on email and chatlines. Runners-up have been John Lewis, whose delivery people ignored specific instructions and just left an expensive carpet in an open unattended hall for two days; hey then refused to print my product review because it mentioned this. And two companies which are proudly touting Which? awards, AO.com, whose first deliverer/installer made an immense amount of trouble about doing any of the promised product installation, and refused to deliver one item downstairs, and customer services refused to do anything except send another driver (taking another two days); and DPD, whose customer services, after two website visits and five separate phone calls, first couldn’t trace a parcel from their own tracking numbers, then faithfully promised me they’d deliver it between 9 and 5 o’clock — not exactly a slot, more like a chasm — and then after I’d waited in all day, didn’t. And still haven’t; they can’t explain why. If these are the best, what’s the worst? Apart from Hermes, who have no customer service contact at all — which given their record with me is probably very wise of them.