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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I wasn’t impressed when my supermarket sent me some almost out-of-date sausages during a recent online grocery order.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……………………..