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Are you being served? We need better customer service

Which? magazine customer service survey brands

As part of our ‘Real Customers, Real Service’ series we’ve been investigating what makes an exceptional customer experience. What should companies do to keep their customers coming back for more?

The poet Maya Angelou wrote: ‘while people may forget what you said and did, they always remember how you made them feel’. That’s very true when it comes to customer service.

Outstanding service can leave you feeling positive, valued and likely to want to repeat the experience. Terrible customer service can leave you feeling stressed, frustrated, angry and, in many cases, never wanting that experience again.

Top big brands rated for customer service

Best and Worst Customer serviceWhen we asked thousands of Brits about the brands they rated most highly for customer service, Lush, Lakeland, First Direct and John Lewis topped our league table. Cosmetics firm Lush is the clear winner in our 2013 survey of 100 big-name brands, being the only brand to achieve an ‘excellent’ five-star rating for having knowledge and helpful staff, and for making customers feel valued.

Ryanair, TalkTalk and Npower need to pull up their socks, however: these brands limp into the bottom places of our survey. If you’re a Which? member, you’ll find the full results of our 2013 customer service survey in the October 2013 issue of Which? magazine, which can also be found online.

Top five points for good customer service

With those winners and losers ringing in your ears, here’s our advice for companies who want to inspire loyalty in their customers:

1. Exceptional customer service more than pays for itself. Happy customers are loyal customers; loyal customers are profitable customers.

2. Value your customers and they’ll value you. Treat each person as an individual. Understand what your customers want and don’t waste their time by keeping them waiting and not being able to sort things out first time.

3. Invest in your staff. Your customers are likely to judge your brand by its staff, so investing in recruitment and training will pay dividends in the long term.

4. A complaint is a gift. Senior managers need to listen to feedback from staff and customers and act on it. If things have gone wrong, see that as an opportunity for improvement. Seize the chance to recover the situation, and retain rather than lose customers.

5. Don’t rest on your laurels. Respond to changing customer demand. None of the companies that excel in our survey have done so by failing to innovate or improve. Complacency hasn’t got them there, nor will it keep them there.

What do you think of our advice for companies? And what do you think makes companies stand out for good (or bad!) customer service?

richard says:
19 September 2013

My tumble dryer wore out after only 60 years of continual service though still usable at low heat
All other appliances have never gone wrong since new – basically since 1962.
My last car needed servicing after 120.000 miles
Once complained to Sainsburys as one orange had a rotten segment replaced immediately with an apology,


richard says:
19 September 2013

oops – forgot Midland Bank didn’t answer properly – Changed Banks immediately. Apart from that – All companies I have dealt with in the last 70 years have been helpful – courteous – and polite – the only problem has been poor battery life


A hairdryer that lasts 60 years should be named and the manufacturer nominated for an award. Perhaps it had fewer hairs to dry in recent years and the low heat setting may well do the job nicely for the next 60 years.

I wouldn’t advise you to dry your hair in a tumble dryer…

Sound advice – although you could use it for a wig.
I can’t argue with any of your advice. I think customer service shows itself when you have a problem some time after a purchase. We had a set of dining furniture from John Lewis. After around 5 years a chair developed loose joints. They immediately sent someone round who took all10 away in two batches and totally rebuilt them – just in case others developed the same problem. No negotiation, just a terrific response. After 12 years a drawer runner became loose and it was not obvious how to fix it. They offered advice over the phone (which did not work) and were then prepared to send someone round at no cost to sort it – fortunately I found the way to do it. Good service like this is when you don’t have to pressure the supplier.

oops, I misread a tumble dryer as a hairdryer so my comment is not relevant.

It would keep the whole body warm in this weather.

Patrick, please delete my comment before we give people ideas.

I have had two experiences from the opposite ends of the spectrum.

When buying a new washing machine, the old one having packed up after 15 years of service, I went into the local Comet store to look at possible replacements. I asked a sales assistant for some information on the various machines but all she was interested in talking about was the need for an extended guarantee at some horrendous cost. In the end I gave up and went elsewhere.

I ordered a filing cabinet from Staples which was to be delivered on the following day before 5pm. It didn’t arrive so I ‘phoned the store to complain. The young lady who answered took some details and said she would ‘phone back, usually a coded message for ‘go away and stop bothering me!’ To my surprise, and pleasure, she called back about 5 minutes later to say that she had established what had happened and the cabinet would now be delivered at 8am the next morning and as an apology I would receive a 10% discount.

Guess which organisation I was happy to do business with in the future!

I purchased a Tom Tom sat nav over 4 years ago and paid £158 for it. It worked quite well until recently when it would not hold a charge when off a power supply. Now, it will not even switch on in any circumstance, even after resetting it. I contacted Tom Tom about a battery replacement and they quoted £70-£80 to change it, in the Netherlands. Amazing that it can’t be changed in the UK. That is half the price of the original unit. I think a device like this should have a battery that is easily changed or else it will end up being disposed of, all for the want of a replacement battery. Tom Tom are only interested in selling sat navs as they offer a 20% discount on new sat navs bought direct from their store. I’m not sure that I want to pay them more of my hard earned money though.

I have found compatible replacement batteries with a small toolkit on Amazon for under £10 and a ‘how to’ video on YouTube so may have a go at changing it myself.

Ditto a Sony e-reader. The importance of being able to replace batteries should be a mandatory field on Which? reports.

Give it a go, Figgerty. You will probably find that the battery is held in place with double-sided tape and just plugs in, so no soldering should be required.

I agree that we should be told whether or not batteries can (easily) be replaced, Dieseltaylor.

My Tom Tom is 10 years old and still works on the car supply, but the battery holds a reduced charge so, like you, thought I’d change the battery. I found a battery and tool-kit was about £13. Checked the forums (fora?) to see how to replace it – it seemed to involve dismantling the whole device; someone had very diligently posted a comprehensive set of well-illustrated instructions that I printed off – 24 pages. At that point I decided to wait until the unit became critical! It hasn’t. Rechargeable batteries have a finite life – it should be mandatory that they should be made easy to replace.
I don’t think you can replace the battery in an i-phone (easily) either, can you.
This simply fuels our wasteful disposable culture.

I like to charge my Tom Tom indoors before a major trip and add in all post codes relating to the trip. Also, I check on TT Home for any map updates and install them. I also like to park on the outskirts of a town, go walkabout and then use the sat nav to return to the car. If the sat nav only works on power then I can’t have my ramble and be sure of finding my car at the end. I am investigating a power bank now as the possible solution to my problem. Portable External Battery Pack Charger / Power Bank is the proper title of the device.

Another thing to note. My current TomTom has a battery life of 5 hours off charge, which is a reasonable time. The latest Tom Toms now have 2 or 3 hours. Are they trying to get us all to buy replacements, all for the want of a battery.

Tom Tom battery replacement as per YouTube video: you have to dismantle the whole device before locating the battery. Then it is held in position by either glue or double sided tape and plugged into a ‘mother’ board. From once you get to the battery it looks easy to replace, after unseating it, you unplug the old one and plug in the new. You then reverse all the steps to get the device back together again. Wavechange, you would love the challenge.

Why the battery is not accessible when you open the device is for Tom Tom to answer, but I’m sure it’s because they wish us to buy a replacement rather than change a battery. I would expect the battery to be as easy to change as a smoke alarm battery or even a mobile phone battery.

Figgerty – I fixed a TomTom for a friend, after he dropped it. I have also had a look in one of mine, which is how I know that the batteries can be replaced fairly easily, once you have managed to get the thing apart.

I have a lot of respect for Apple products, but the company has really annoyed me by making their batteries non-replaceable. When their laptops had replaceable batteries I could keep a spare battery handy, but not any more.

Wavechange, I knew you would relish the challenge.

You should write to Apple to complain. My last two laptops, a Toshiba and a Dell, needed the battery replaced after about 4-5 years. I then used them happily for another 3 or 4 years. I would hate to be anchored to a power point all the time so Apple would not suit me unless their batteries lasted about ten years.

Figgerty – I love keeping things working provided that they have not been replaced by products that are much superior.

You are quite right that I should complain to Apple. Their laptop battery operating time tends to be good, but that is no help if have a flat battery and no way of charging it. I have complained to one of their dealers but not to the company.

I have had lots of problems with Toshiba laptop batteries at work, but that was a few years ago.

Companies really need to listen and act on feedback.

Due the the very scammer rich environment that is facebook, I’ve ended up contacting several companies about things I’ve seen on facebook that may or may not be related to them but are claiming to be them.

Here are some examples:
1) FoxyBingo: There was an ad claiming to offer several pounds incentive to sign up. The amount was more than being offered on TV ads and on their own website so I asked if it was genuine, and was told it was ( first ad out of 5 that was genuine). I then went back to point out the the web address used in the ad didn’t look right and it turned out to be a tracking url, which they’ve since changed, but haven’t bothered to say thank you

2) Royal Mail: another ad on facebook, with an obvious tracking url which I pointed out to Royal Mail, the url got changed but did they bother to reply, NO. If you Google these tracking url very high up on the list you see the word virus, which worries me enough to avoid.

3) Tesco: Numerous ads pretending to be from them all scams. Tesco talked to facebook to get them removed and thanked me personally for pointing them out.

4) Facebook themselves, Their ads are a scammers dream, as the tooltips don’t actually show where the link is going, and they should be changed to help prevent scams, Facebook haven’t even acknowledged my suggestion and the scams still keep coming. There was another Tesco one yesterday, I was obvious to me but apparently not the 700+ who liked the fake Tesco page.

I could include more examples about other things, but I’ll stop there.

What’s a tracking url and how does it work?

Aren’t these all things you can tell the Advertising Standards Authority or someone else about? They control online behavioural adverts, and advertisers are supposed to say upfront if they’re collecting data.

Tracking URLs allow a company to determine the effectiveness of marketing campaigns. By amongst other things counting the number of visits to a site, you click on a link for say mycompanyname dot com when in fact the link takes you to trackingwebsite dot com than that counts the visit and routes you on to wherever.

It saves a company from coding that stuff themselves, so basically they’re being lazy and have outsourced it.

Do these tracking websites collect identifiable information about you? For that matter, do the banner adverts served on the original page you were at?

No idea, if the tooltip doesn’t take you to the page indicated I refuse to click on them. There were no banner adverts, it was all on facebook.

And as no facebook ad will show you were its actually taking you, I’ll never click on a facebook ad.

From the supplier side: since we service and repair home and small business computers, the better we do our job the LESS likely our clients are to come back, because their computers don’t go wrong any more! We get great compliments on feedback, we have many loyal clients, but it’s really difficult to differentiate ourselves from the competition offering cheap, but inferior services.

I agree 100% with the comment from Joyce above. I remember seeing a training film at work years ago, where the head of customer service was proudly telling the MD how they were now handling more complaints than ever before, answering the phones quicker etc. But the message was that focussing on customer service was missing the point, you need to get the basic product/service right in terms of reliability or whatever so customers don’t complain in the first place.

So Which, I think your survey is missing the point….

Following on from Richard`s comments above re his tumble drier, I have been using Ryanair for 10 years or so, both business and holiday flights. They have never been more than a few minutes late, never lost my bag and never bumped me due to overbooking. I see no reason to use another airline. What am I doing wrong?

Meadow55 says:
20 September 2013

I remember having a discussion with a senior retail figure about what was most important: customer, staff or shareholders. I’ve argued that it’s staff – you get the right attitude in staff, and the rest follows. And staff culture is driven from the top. It’s simple: yes, we do trust you; yes, we know you will make mistakes but we will fix them together; and yes, we value you as a person.

The senior retail figure said customers. Which is why we have helplines that aren’t; after sales service that isn’t; and a constant drive for ‘new’ customers rather than keeping existing customers.

richard says:
20 September 2013

Ryanair, I know you have published your latest regarding customer service but I would just like to add that it has a serious problem with how it almost spits in there customers face, I was boarding a flight with the company last Christmas and a girl about 18 years was showing her boarding pass to board the flight when asked her to try and fit her carry on bag into the Ryanair bag measuring frame when it fitted she could not pull it out and when was asked for help the Ryanair staff said it´s your problem to get it out of there so I came forward and helped her pull it out as the straps were slotting into frame so was very hard to pull out ,to my amazement a staff came over and said to me do you want to go on this flight I said beg you pardon and another staff came over and bundled us on to the flight, I have never flown Ryanair again and much prefer Easyjet and others.
It seems that this culture is the norn across the company.

I agree this is not the way to treat customers. I too have seen/experienced rudeness from both BA and easyjet staff, and more to the point found them both to be persistently late on return flights to the Uk. Rudeness etc I can ignore but lateness when I am on the way home reaaly annoys me.

Richard, an extract from todays Daily Express article on Ryanair. A Ryanair shareholder also noticed customers crying at the boarding gate so you are not alone. The Which? Survey placing them at the bottom of the 100 list for customer service may also be a contributing factor to this about face by Michael O’Leary not to mention its likely slump in profits. A humble MOL I would love to see.

“Ryanair boss vows to treat customers nicer
BUDGET airline Ryanair yesterday pledged to be nicer to customers days after Britons voted it the worst of 100 biggest brands.

The Irish firm promised to change its “abrupt culture” so it can lure customers from costlier rivals.

Admitting that it had developed a reputation for treating passengers badly, the airline promised to be more lenient over carry-on bags, overhaul its website and set up a new team to respond to emails.

The about-turn came after shareholders complained at the firm’s annual general meeting about the impact of customer service on sales. In typical style, outspoken chief executive Michael O’Leary told the meeting: “We should try to eliminate things that unnecessarily **** people off. It’s something we are committed to addressing.”

Private shareholder Owen O’Reilly told the Dublin meeting: “I have seen people crying at boarding gates. There is something wrong there that needs to be addressed.”

Mr O’Leary, who for years has scoffed at customer service complaints, citing statistics about revenue growth and punctual departures, nodded sheepishly as other shareholders described verbal attacks they had suffered at dinner parties and told of family members refusing to fly Ryanair.”

Other newspapers and websites carry similar articles.

It proves the adage: you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Why should customers reward bad companies with their business when better alternatives are available?For some things, price is all you need to worry about, but quality of service is all-important for me and firms that take us for fools and treat us with despicion one day cannot just turn round the next day and say “we’ve changed – we’ll look after you now” – perhaps they still think we’re fools.

In my experience very large companies place too much reliance on computer records and call centres. As a result they offer a very poor customer experience.

I recently ordered a phone and connection from VODAFONE . The on line order did not progress. Every time I phoned them [ at least 8 times plus letters and several emails] to query the lack of progress [ after negotiating the usual automated obstacle course ] I was put through to a different person [ not always in the same department] would have to told the same security answers and the same story every time . On each occasion i was assured the matter would be sorted but was given different advice – which turned out to be incorrect – for example I was asked to visit the local store to collect the phone which I was assured was there – when i went it wasn’t there [ even though I suspected this and queried it with thier advisor].. In the end after compete exasperation , I cancelled the order and requested and got an e mail from VODAFONE no charges were due. Despite this, Vodafone for weeks after continued to write and email me welcoming me as a customer !- Attempts to stop this flow of rubbish were unsucessful. [Computer says YES}. However not content with this they recently sent two letters to me about my “unpaid” bill for an account and phone i do not have!!! Yet another phone call to them. Appalling. I am still awaiting the final confirmation that I do NOT have an account with them and that I owe them nothing.

I have recently had a similar experience with BT. I recently requested and upgrade to my services which was not supplied . I have had to phone them repeatedly about this order which it appears which was not progressing [to upgrade my phone and TV service.] Their website did not show the current position despite claiming to do so and so of course I have had to resort to using their call centre and phoning them repeatedly with little success in resolving the problem. Invariably they like others who have call centres say are “extremely busy and I’ll have to wait” [i might believe this if it wasn’t the case that nearly every large company i phone ays the same thing.} Again I have to negotiate a computer phone menu which puts through to different people and departments each time. Whilst the staff are polite they have consistently n give incorrect advice fail to return calls when they promise to do have failed to take the correct action to resolve the problem. All these calls are logged on their system but it seems to make no difference. The latest gaffe is that they decided to cancel the order and start again. Fine except 10 minutes later i get an e mail from them saying they’re “sorry Im leaving” and they would like me to return their kit !! Ugh ! just dreadful – you coudnt make it up – yet more calls and complaints needed . I have a friend who recently went over to BT and they had similar problems….says it all really.

These companies are huge and make big profits but they can’t provide decent customer service [ or indeed a good product or carry out simple process without making silly errors or contradicting themselves. What ever happened to personal service? When things go wrong why cant these companies allocate your case to ONE person who is responsible for sorting out the problem? The truth is that they are more interested in paring costs to the bone than in providing real and effective customer service….I despair

It annoys me having to switch from one company to another to save money if new customers are offered a better deal. I make it very clear that companies are losing a loyal customer. Once I have switched, the previous company usually pesters me to return, so I phone them up and explain politely but firmly why I left them and would be unlikely to return, especially if they keep pestering me.

Perhaps companies should put on training courses so that their staff realise the value of loyal customers.

I totally agree with point number 4. A company which gets it wrong but subsequently puts things right beyond my expectations will probably gain my loyalty more than a company which gets everything right in the first place.

John CARR says:
24 September 2013

What a strange combination of companies. How can the complexity of selling glorified bath salts ever compare with delivering a service that will only ever be remarkable when it fails?

Apple has really annoyed me. One of their dealers has quoted me their ‘fixed price’ of about £210 to replace the glass cover on my iPad2, which suffered a knock when I was on holiday. The screen itself is undamaged.

I will probably tackle the repair myself, but how can any company justify this price for a fairly straightforward repair?

wavechange, this is how companies make a lot of money – spare parts are usually heavily marked-up in price – it’s a captive market.
On the other hand, some seem to be more reasonable. My daughter knocked her Dell laptop off the sofa arm onto the floor and broke the screen and hinge. She rang Dell who quoted her £185 to repair it. They sent a technician round and the screen was replaced with a better one; in addition they found the surround was cracked and, although it hadn’t been included in the quote, came round again to fix it without charge. I thought that was pretty fair service.


It looks as if the price I was quoted is for an exchange rather than a repair, though the local dealer did not mention this. According to the Apple website, out-of-warranty service involves replacement with a device that is ‘new or equivalent to new in both performance and reliability’. Fair enough, but all I want is a genuine part at a sensible price, but I won’t waste my time asking.

The price your daughter was quoted seems fair enough since it includes the lid and display, and a home visit.

Alison says:
3 December 2013

We are very disappointed with Bathstore (the West Wickham shop). Everything is fine and dandy until something goes wrong – and suddenly the staff change from being helpful and friendly to – well – “unpleasant” is the most polite description I can offer.

We bought a range of accessories for our new bathroom from Bathstore West Wickham. These included a Illuminated Mirror Cabinet.

Unfortunately, the cabinet had a broken hinge. Then, its replacement had a damaged/faulty light fitting.

The third cabinet we received (happily) is just fine.

At first Bathstore staff were nice and apologetic. They took the faulty cabinets back and organised replacements. But they turned quite nasty when we returned the second faulty cabinet and asked for compensation to cover the cost of getting our bathroom fitter/electrician, who by this time had completed our bathroom installation, to make a special trip to fit the cabinet. We also thought it reasonable to ask for a goodwill payment to cover all the inconvenience caused to us by the faulty/damaged goods – not least four additional trips to the store; each about a 14-mile roundtrip.

We have been asked to provide proof of the extra installation cost which is tricky because our final invoice isn’t broken down to that degree of detail – though I’m sure we could get it.

We got an unequivocal “no” to our request for goodwill compensation. Very disappointing.

It’s such a shame.

I don’t think it is uncommon to exclude “consequential” losses – such as the cost of getting your electrician back – for problems with goods that you purchase. This cost can far outweigh any profit on the goods. But good luck with your claim.
We recently ordered two items for a birthday from John lewis on click and collect from our local Waitrose. We collected a largish box on the birthday morning but when we got home found it contained only one – plus a large piece of packing. Rang the shop, who confirmed they had the other. They would have posted it but we needed it that day, so we did the 20 mile round trip again to collect it. Waiting for us was a £5 voucher for our trouble. A nice gesture.

I have just waited in all morning for Eon to service my boiler between 8 and 12. By 1.30 no sign so I phoned their helpline. “The driver could not find your house so gave up.” He had my mobile number. Why couldn’t he have phoned me to ask directions or just stop and ask someone? Why couldn’t Eon have phoned me to say he wouldn’t be coming? They obviously knew the driver was not coming. I have registered a complaint with their Complaints office and will look elsewhere when the contract finishes.

It seems things don’t get better at BT Residential Customer Services. I’ve just spent 45 minutes on a “web-chat” to check that I had a fault on our phone – then, only to have to report it by phone, go through all the options and wait over 10 minutes for the call to be answered.
Why can’t you speak to one person who can sort everything out – surely it would save them many Customer Service Advisers not having to pass enquirers around, too – not to mention customers’ time and complete and utter frustration, too?


Gerraint says:
18 September 2014

The worst customer service I have experienced and continue to experience are very closely tied @BTCare @VodafoneUK @SkyHelpTeam