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There’s no excuse for bad customer service

Men shaking hands in shop, black and white photo

I’m fed up with companies not treating their customers properly. Companies have to get their act together and improve their customer service, and we need your help…

There’s no getting away from the fact that customer service matters – in our survey of 2,000 Brits, 61% said they had avoided a company because of its bad customer service reputation.

And now our research has uncovered the most common customer service problems in the UK. These range from complaints not being taken seriously, to staff knowledge not being up to scratch.

My first thought when I read the results was that we’ve all been there. From the person on the end of the phone whose main aim is to pass the buck, to the shop assistants who have plenty of time to chat to each other but not to give you the help you need.

And some of us get it much worse than others – just spare a thought for the 2% of people who have been sworn at!

Real Customers, Real Service

At Which? we regularly get emails, tweets, letters and phone calls from people who are in despair because they’ve been badly treated by a company that’s not willing to sort out their problem. And we’ve had enough. Not of your stories, but of bad customer service. We think it’s time to make a stand and we need your help.

We want you to share your stories about good and bad customer service. We’ll use this information to put customer service at the heart of our articles, to highlight good and bad practice, to get companies to raise their game, and to arm you with the advice you need to beat the baddies.

Good and bad customer service

I’ll kick things off. One of my most frustrating experiences of bad customer service was a Sainsbury’s shop assistant who wouldn’t help me track down peanut butter as, according to him, it didn’t exist. But I’ve also had plenty of good experiences, such as a waiter at the restaurant chain Ping Pong who chatted with my kids and made my toddler laugh.

So tell us your stories, both good and bad, to help us improve customer service for everyone.

Mohammed Khan says:
21 January 2017

I bought a fridge freezer (american style) from an auction and it looked brand new and worked for a couple of weeks. Anyway, it just stopped working and so I called the manufacturer, which in this case was John Lewis. Basically, this was around December 2016 and the warranty on the fridge was going to run out at the end of the month. The engineer cam from John Lewis and looked at the fridge and said that he though to fix it was too big a job and he was going to tell his employers to send a replacement.
I was really happy about this, but got no feedback from John Lewis so phone them back and guess what they were not going to replace it. They gave me a code and told me to contact the original sellers and they would replace it. This did not happen and the warranty has run out. Good on you John Lewis for the worst customer service.
In short if you buy a John Lewis product they will dodge their responsibility. Don’t buy a John Lewis product with the John Lewis product.

Cathy Garner says:
9 July 2017

This April, I was sent a marketing email from Tesla inviting me to “Enhance your driving experience by maximizing the range of your current vehicle” by upgrading my Model S 70D’s battery from 70kWh to 75kWh.

This was to be performed via “an over–the–air software update”. The advertised cost was: “As of today, Model S … 70 and 70D [can upgrade] for $500.”

I went through the entire purchasing process, but I was informed only after completion that I had been charged GBP 500.00, not USD 500.00 as advertised. 
At the interbank exchange rate on the date they processed my payment, this equated to a price of USD 643.99 – an increase of over 22% on the advertised price, without any warning or notification.

So I complained to Tesla via email, using both the marketing email address and an email address given on their website. I received no reply. As a last resort, I emailed the salesman who had sold me the vehicle at Tesla Heathrow, saying that I would rather avoid talking to the Trading Standards Authority, and hoped that he could help me. Again, I received no reply.

(Strangely enough, of course, since then I’ve managed to receive various other marketing emails from them, including one from Tesla Heathrow!)

This was not the first time that Tesla has quoted one price and then tried to charge another, higher price – it happened to me when I originally bought the car.  I managed to successfully argue against this at the time. However, I had no such luck this time.

Because I had paid for the upgrade via debit card, I contacted my bank, First Direct, to ask them to help. I must say, they were great, and although they told me that there was no protection under the Visa scheme, they refunded me the difference between the GBP price and the USD price as a gesture of goodwill.

So I am, fortunately, no longer out of pocket. I’ve received the upgrade, and it works just fine. Nonetheless, I am still very angry with Tesla. This is unfair trading and “bait advertising” – advertising products at a specified price without disclosing that they have reasonable grounds to believe they may not be able to supply them or their equivalent at that price for a reasonable period or in reasonable quantities. 

I love the Tesla car; it really is an amazing feat of engineering, even though it has some bugs and flaws, as might be expected of groundbreaking technology. However, their customer service is simply dreadful. (I’ve had other issues with car servicing and charging and have been left with the impression that they are very uncoordinated.)

All the news stories about Tesla – and there are many – give an impression of a company led by a brilliant man – with, unfortunately, zero idea of how to run a business. I wonder how long Tesla will last?

I will certainly buy an electric car again. However, for my next car, I will be looking very closely at BMW or Toyota. They have the advantage of decades of honing their customer service. I know from owning other cars that I will never have such a poor experience with either of them.

I purchased a 5 ltr. ready to use non smear screen wash from Halfords. To my horror, it left a waxy film that smeared until it dried, and during the misty weather we’ve had, that took a long time. It was dangerous.
I tried the customer service live chat and ended up with someone (an idiot) who didn’t know what I was talking about and didn’t know what to do. I then phoned customer service and this was marginally better-I was told to contact the store I purchased the screen wash from for their advice. This I did and was told to dilute it then pump it through until the water was clear. And return the screen wash for a refund.
I’m very surprised that a company as large as Halfords doesn’t train their customer service operatives properly or supervise them. The live chat was not only poorly informed, but the typing was substandard lacking grammar, capitals and punctuation. How did this person get this job? The customer service operative on the phone didn’t know what to do either but at least did give me advice.
Has Which? investigated this?

British Gas service is absolutely dreadful. Found gas smell on Wed. Emergency spent 2 hrs, couldn’t find a leak. Eventually BG agreed to come next day to check (after a lot of arguing), arrived, found a gas leak. No hot water/heating since Wed. They tell me they cannot fix it until TUES when I am supposed to be on holiday on Monday!!! OK they left 3 titchy useless fan heaters which cost a fortune and less than useless.
Totally unacceptable in this day and age to leave ANYONE without heating/hot water for six days. They put profit before customers. This situation occurs EVERY single year. They should have enough trained staff from October to March to deal with all these emergencies they say they have got. Don’t believe a word of it. I’ve had it with them.

Do you have your system checked regularly? I arrange for ours to be serviced during the summer and the technician checks the gas meter and the supply to the boiler when it is out of action. Luckily no leaks have been found but there are two good reasons for having the service outside the heating season: (a) service technicians are more readily available and have less emergency work, and (b) any suspension of gas supply has less serious consequences.

British Gas don’t just service homes where people have a contract but will attend any property and tend to give priority to emergency work over regular contract work.