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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.

Comments

Is it not a fact that customer services departments are usually set up for the benefit of the supplier and not the customer? .

I left college over 40 years ago and my first job was at Which?, initially analyzing complaints about solicitors.

It didn’t take much time for me to report that the Law Society operated a culture of complaint elimination.

Eventually the government lost patience with that body and nationalized lawyer complaint handling..

Should that approach be applied elsewhere?

Are we talking about customer service at the point of sale here or complaints handling by customer services departments later on? These are two separate, but related issues.

John Lewis Customer Service.

I have had a bad experience recently with John Lewis Customer Service – that great bastion of good customer service. I posted a review on their website of a product purchased from their store, They refused to publish the review on the grounds that I highlighted an issue with their service or delivery.

This was my review:
“A solid, well built Fridge Freezer
In Sept 2012 my 15 year old Hotpoint Fridge Freezer suddenly started to freeze up to the extent that the door was being pushed out by the frost. I decided to buy a new frost free one and narrowed my search on line down to Hotpoint or Bosch. In the JLP store, I was surprised at the poor quality of fittings in most of the sub £600 products. After looking around, I decided the build quality and fittings of this was far superior than my short listed ones. I have not regretted this after having it working in my kitchen for six months.

The space in the fridge is excellent, the first time ever I have been unable to fill one. The shelf positions are very versatile as are some in the door. My kitchen is next to the living room and I never hear it working, so noise is not a problem for me. Despite only having three freezer drawers, it holds more than my older four drawer one as the drawers are deep.
Minuses:
Temperature display (needs much clearer display)
No specific space for ice cube tray
Worst instruction manual I have ever seen (was of no use for either the half shelving positions or the temperature).”

Now, I have battled since 25 March to get JLP to change their mind about publishing the review and apologise to me for their lack of customer service. I also asked them on several occasions to remove a review of the same product that said only: “I have nothing but praise for John Lewis’s customer service. Their helpfulness has never changed over the years”. Now this review had been on line for over ten months, this did not even mention anything about the product, only the praise for John Lewis, and the review is still on the site.

At the time I posted my review, I commented on another review on the same product, where the new owner was experiencing difficulties with the manufacturer. I pointed out that they should get John Lewis involved to sort out the problems rather than dealing direct with the manufacturer. When I checked the site today both the original review and my comment have been deleted.

Now, I have been a happy customer of John Lewis for many years, buying all large and expensive items there, but after having another experience of having a product review refused last year, on the same grounds, but later published, I wonder what is happening to their great customer service. Why is it not possible to comment on their website on their customer service – good or bad. If it is as great as most of us believe/d, what do they have to fear. I also believe the reviews should appear as soon as you post them and not be subject to censorship.

After several emails since 25 March, and a couple of phone calls today, I now have a ref no: for my review complaint. I feel that complaining about/to JLP is like complaining about/to God, both are sacrosanct and it is impossible to get to speak to the responsible person. And all their emails are signed ‘John Lewis’, just as difficult to track him down as to locate God.

I can’t work out what aspect of John Lewis’s service or delivery you wished to comment on. Your review seemed to confine itself to being informative but harmless remarks about an unnamed fridge-freezer. John Lewis’s decision and subsequent behaviour appear, on the face of it, to be irrational but I expect they are within their prerogative. Unlike some other companies, John Lewis manage their own customer review process so there’s bound to be a degree of editorial control and moderating. I think if I were in your position I would consider it time to move on now.

I am commenting on their customer service, part of which is allowing their customers to review products purchased from them.

I had a phone call today from their call centre telling me that I would have to write in to their head office with my complaint as they did not have access to reviews. I told the lady that all the information was on line or in emails and I did not wish to write in but instead wished to speak to whoever is responsible for banning my review. She is going to speak to her manager and see if they find the person.

Since when has it been so difficult to get to speak to somebody at John Lewis outside the call centre. Even Talk Talk will transfer you to a manager dealing with complaints, if you insist. or you can select the option that you are planning on leaving TT and you then get some results – well I have on a few occasions.

I do wonder why retailers enable the review function on their e-commerce sites. Something to do with stakeholder engagement that the consultants told them they must do when they bought the software I expect.

They soon find that it has to be heavily moderated to stop disgruntled customers slagging them off anonymously rather than complaining through the proper channels. Using a review to comment on another user’s review is another sure fire way of getting banned. Then people who get modded start a flame war claiming suppression of freedom of expression.

Given that these reviews usually tell you far more about the reviewer than the product they serve very useful purpose. The last place I’d look when buying a fridge is user reviews. That’s what I subscribe to Which? for. The whole thing has nothing to do with customer service.

Nick Davies

Amazon and Currys and eBuyer (Reevoo) manage their product reviews very well. I often check them out when I am planning a purchase. If you get a great number of people complaining or complementing the same think, I think it is a good guide to the product. As to allowing a customer to comment on another review, this is something new on the John Lewis website. It may be their way of allowing us to ‘ask an owner’ like on Reevoo, but I was so appalled at the trouble the person was experiencing with the manufacturer, I just had to comment. Reviews on the John Lewis are never live and appear hours or sometimes days after posting.

Now, does my review tell you something about me and very little about the product.

I agree that customers’ reviews are very useful, Figgerty, particularly for products that Which? has not tested. The most useful reviews tend to be those from people who make both positive and negative comments about the same product.

Wavechange. I agree and have used the ‘ask an owner’ feature at least twice in the past year. First when I was buying a triple phone system and again when I considered buying a heated massager seat cover for the car. In each case, a feature I considered important was not listed in the specification, by posing a question to owners, and getting a few replies, I decided to buy the phones but not the seat cover.

I also think it would be extremely useful for manufacturers and retailers to be aware of what customers think of their products.

A Johnson says:
26 April 2013

I also was disappointed with John Lewis’ service last autumn when I purchased a cooker from them. The information I was given on the telephone about delivery and installation was very confused, and I had to wait much longer than expected for delivery. I told them I was very disappointed, and would be reluctant to buy from them again, but did not post a complaint on the website.

richard says:
16 April 2013

That’s why I complain – if not satisfied – I write to tell them why I no longer will buy from their company – Then I find a better supplier – works very well – Must add I have received excellent service from John Lewis – The service from BT over 20 years ago was appalling so I changed to NTL (Cable & Wireless) – excellent service since though it is now Virgin Media

I have had very good service from John Lewis over many years – until this business with reviews. It is such a simple thing to fix and could be putting off some of their customers from using the review process.

I’ve been with NTL ( now Virgin ) for years too. And I find their customer service to be one of the worst, and don’t get me started on their non technical technical department. Many a time I’d ring up to report a drop in service to be told to do this and that and the other, when there was a drop in service and their customer service department wasn’t even aware.

And when you ring to complain about the “free” doubling of my broadband which when tested is no better than before, the overseas operator couldn’t follow comments, I guess he didn’t have script to read from.

Why do I stick with them? ADSL doesn’t do it for me and they’re the only cable operator.

Paul G says:
16 April 2013

TalkTalk customer service

I have got a major problem with TalkTalk – they have managed to cut off my wife’s email account by changing the password on it and seem to be unable to rectify the problem. When I speak to or email their customer services I get bland reassurances but no actual information on what, if anything, is happening. I have repeatedly told them that it is needed for my wife’s work but it has made no difference. Next step is to write to the Head of Complaints

I believe in taking people out of their comfort zone to get results.

If you get nowhere with “Customer Services”, you can only expect more of the same from the “Head of Complaints”.

Go to the excellent “CEO Email” site , get the email address of the chief executive and write to him or her regardless of who responds to you.

I like your style! I found an email address and phone number for the MD and will use it in a couple of days, if I do not hear from somebody responsible for blocking my review.

I once contacted the CEO of Aiwa when my stereo system packed up after 15 months. By plodding on and not giving up, I ended up with a brand new stereo.

Mary-Ann says:
26 April 2013

Yikes! TalkTalk! I once visited their website to see what they offered and decided against going with them. Was I glad. I stupidly gave them some information and after that we started getting sales calls every day even though we are on the telephone preference service and repeatedly asked them to remove our number from their call list. It was harassment to us and we registered a complaint with OfCom. They still called for a while longer even though we kept telling them we had complained about them. It eventually tailed off.

Gareth says:
16 April 2013

I’ve currently got a problem with O2. I cannot get a consistent signal for my mobile phone whilst at work since they decommissioned a mast a few weeks ago. They have had to remove a mast due to building works at the hospital I work for. They had 18 months notice of this, but chose to do nothing about it. They have repeatedly assured me that the problem would be fixed soon, but no mention of when that would be. They have repeated the tired old phrase “that they are working on the problem” and that I could claim back money for the loss of service.
They repeatedly refuse to give me contact information to take my complaint further and trot out standard responses. The last person I contacted via their “Web-chat” service told me that it would be fixed by the end of last week. Clearly false information, as I know from the hospital website that they still haven’t got an alternative site for their mast. I suspect that the only way I will be able to use my phone at work in the near future, will be to move to another provider.

CASussex says:
16 April 2013

Had a problem web ordering a Truprint photo book back in Jan. after several e-mails, having to upload problem snaps (heads cut off etc), re-uploading the lot and re-ordering (same result), I requested a refund that i finally received today (after re-registering payment card in my web account). Throughout, the Company was quick to respond, courteous and helpful, but the initial product was not fit for purpose.

Jo Evans says:
19 April 2013

The first time I downloaded an MP3 album – back in 2009 – I managed to delete it as soon as I downloaded it! Amazon were very understanding and released another copy for me to download for free.

My powerchair came from a company called DCS Joncare. Last weekend it broke down and the engine started smoking. The one aspect of their customer service is that they provide a courtesy chair which is very good, however their CEO’s response to my mum complaining about a faulty product (we went through my call out reports which are quite vast considering I’ve only had it two years) was very condescending and patronising (he immediately tried to make out that we had selected the wrong chair for its use, despite the fact that it was him who recommended it), especially as she is the wife of a robotics engineer – she knows what she is talking about! I had the engineer call me today and confirm that what happened was as my dad suspected, and to their credit, they are not charging me for the repair. But we shall see if the CEO dares speak to Mum again after that!

There’s hardly any companies nowadays that have decent customer service. If we phone
we first have to navigate irrelevant menus and, if we are lucky, we eventually get to speak to a human. On the way the cheezy hold music is continuingly interrupted with recorded messages instructing us not to call but to visit their web-site. No-one in their right mind would choose to suffer calling the customer disservice department if the answer was available on the web-site.

Often this human cannot speak or understand English so we get no help. Even if the person does speak English they rarely have the knowledge or authority to resolve the issue. I am fed up with hearing the words “it can’t be done”. I even had one person deny that the Sales of Goods Act even existed!

Even if you write in the old philosophy “the customer is always right” is totally absent and you are told you are wrong. Even companies that previously had a good reputation are culprits. When I wrote to Waitrose because their online payment system failed to take payment for all my holiday shopping and I lost it all they replied “We are satisfied that all the correct procedures were followed”. They offered no apology that their faulty system cost me many hours of wasted time.

I could go on but it would end up being a book.

I think the biggest problem these days for the consumer is that almost all CEOs see a customer service department as a non profit part of the organisation and therefore an overhead they don’t want.So they never spend the money to do it properly (i.e. train the staff, give the staff the powers to do it properly). Of course, almost any customer will tell you that with good customer service comes customer retention. A happy customer will tell friends so zero advertising is needed.

Just makes me wonder how these people ever get to be CEO.

First Direct seem to be a different animal although, very helpful customer service and no menus to navigate through first.

I agree that First Direct has much better telephone customer service. However FD made a complete pigs ear of switching my direct debits from my old bank account so that neither of my credit card bills got paid on time. And they have the cheek to call it “EasySwitch”!

I boycotted Currys some years ago after having had several poor experiences. Now that Comet has closed, I decided to give them another try. One of the reasons that Currys has annoyed me is by referring me to the manufacturer for support when there is a fault during the guarantee period. Here is an exchange of emails, modified only to remove names and contact details:

—– Original Message —–

Dear Sir/Madam

I bought a phone from one of your Currys stores yesterday and the receipt
was in a leaflet with the following text:

If we refer you to the product manufacturer or repair agent for service or
repair, this is because they are our agents for the products and have been
chosen because they are best placed to help our customers with product
queries.

I have no problem contacting the manufacturer for support, but if the
product is faulty, I expect to bring it back to the local shop where I
bought it. I don¹t want to waste time, pay for expensive phone calls,
postage, having to be home to collect the repaired/replaced goods, etc.

Some years ago I bought a Miele vacuum cleaner from Currys and was told that
I must contact the manufacturer, even though I had taken it back to the shop
with a fault, within a couple of months of purchase. I do not want to do
that again.

Can you confirm that I am within my legal rights to expect your stores to
take back faulty products within the guarantee period for
repair/replacement? I should add that there is no problem with my recent
purchase.

Yours faithfully

(Name removed)

The service available at, Currys, PC World, Dixons.co.uk and Pixmania.com

Hi (name removed),

Thanks for getting in touch with us.

I would have liked to contact you by phone today however, we have been unable to locate a contact telephone number for you,
please provide this in any future emails.

I am sorry to hear that your phone has not been working as you expected,
and I can appreciate how disappointing this must be.

So that we can offer you the best support with your enquiry,
could you please confirm your full address including post code, receipt number, branch number,
and date of purchase.

We look forward to hearing from you with this information.

Kind regards,

(Name removed)
The KNOWHOW™ Team

How did I do? Leave your feedback here:
(Link removed)

As you can see, the reply from Currys was not helpful.

– I had said that there was no problem with my purchase.

– I have not received an answer to my query about taking faulty goods back to the shop I bought them from.

Mary-Ann says:
26 April 2013

I want to commend two companies which have consistently provided us with excellent customer service. They are: The Co-operative Bank and Good Energy (electricity and gas). Probably no surprises there but every time I need to call (not frequently), I have gotten through quickly, the customer service agent has been courteous, friendly, efficient and have provided the information I need or taken care of the problem. I wish I could say that about all companies I have to deal with.

British Gas was one of the worst. We moved into a new house and during the change over, we received an estimated bill that was way over the top. To make matters worse, the starting point of the bill was also estimated. Since I had given an actual reading when we were switching, I called to point this out. The agents could not understand my argument that although they may estimate a bill, they cannot estimate the beginning reading.

After hearing them tell me for the hundredth time that it was an estimated bill, I requested to speak with a supervisor. The supervisor also repeated the estimated bill line but finally understood my point about the beginning reading. His response? There was nothing they could do because I had not given them a reading when we moved in, which I had. Unfortunately, I had not kept the reading so could not verify it.

At the time, my husband had been hit by a car and I was very sick and we were awaiting our possessions so after they slightly readjusted our bill, I paid up just so I would never have to deal with them again.

When I last had to deal with the Co-op bank they were amongst the worst. I had a co-op bank credit card account. When one of my payments was missed through no fault of my own they were absolutely dreadful. The CS agents were unhelpful and sometimes rude. I was not permitted to speak to the correct person. After I tried to cancel my card they allowed a fraudster to rack up £1000s all around the world, and then they “lost” a legitimate refund. I made two different formal complaints to them about their procedures and most of the issues went unresolved. All in all it took then 9 months to sort out the mess so I could actually close my account. They expected me to keep filling in forms reporting the fraud, even when I already done so. I’d never use them again.

Tom says:
29 April 2013

There seems to be a philosophy these days that prohibits any employee from “carrying over” an enquiry from one day to the next and, especially, over longer periods. The “forward diary” whereby an organisation would make a forward note to carry out a financial instruction or perform other customer services at a date in the future has vanished. This was particularly evident when one bank (can supply) would not, at a branch, correct a clerical mistake of their own making unless I phoned in to their “special number”. This itself is extremely poor service but when I eventually contacted this number and pursued this and another matter the person on the other end could not himself contact a third person. When I told him I expected him to pursue these issues and contact me with the results he said he was unable to do this either by telephone, e-mail (no surprise there) or letter. In fact it was down to me to phone again the next day to continue . It was quite obvious that there was to be no work outstanding at the end of the day for him. This is appalling behaviour!
I have had the same experience with two Utility companies who will not accept my instructions on how to deal with overpayments at payment review dates. They refuse to make a note (or “flag” the system) with my requirements. I must wait until they send me their standard communications.
Another example was a bank which notified me that a fixed term bond was to mature in two or three months time and that they would send me a form for me to articulate my instructions on how to dispose of the proceeds – but that this form would be issued 6 weeks before the date of maturity. They refused to accept any instructions before this date despite being told that I would be out of the country for some time and would be unable to deal with the matter.
All this is arrant nonsense of course! Any computer system can issue reports at any time to enable actions to be taken at non-standard times. They just will not do so. If the “one size fits all” philosophy cannot be over-ridden in appropriate cases then whoever signed off the business case for the system should be sacked. We are being shoe-horned into fitting nicely in to their (very costly) computerised systems. Incidentally, whatever happened to the “Empowerment of Staff” concept which is supposed to motivate staff, encourage better performance and service and, consequently, contribute to higher downstream profitability?
Communications policies are risible and I, for one, will not comply. I write letters of enquiry rather than telephone in the full knowledge that it is costly for them to reply even if they have trained enough staff to be able to carry out this simple clerical function. Of course in adopting this policy I am also capping my costs at 50p plus stationery none of which goes to the company. I do not accept telephonic responses but am prepared to comply if they in turn will also supply me with either an e-mail address or 0800 number for the carrying out of business.
I suppose I have become somewhat paranoid over these matters of customer “service” and maybe I should get a life. However the realities of doing business with these people as compared with their trumpetings of customer service “achievements” is really the most unpalatable hypocrisy.

Earlier in this conversation I reported a problem with John Lewis rejecting a product review.
I am pleased to report that I have finally tracked down the manager at John Lewis who is responsible for the product review system. This took many unanswered emails, several conversations with their two call centres and finally a couple of conversations with their Customer Relations department. My review has now been published – after 5 weeks – unaltered from my original posting. in fact it was my original review. I am very disappointed with the way John Lewis handled my complaint of the original rejection of my review. This is not how I would expect a company renowned for it’s good customer service.

How about this one for poor customer service? Recently I received a letter from Santander telling me that my savings account is changing. The problem is that, to my knowledge, I don’t have any accounts with Santander and have never had a savings account with them.

After a long phone call (to an 0845 number) I discover that, a few years ago, when I had opened an Alliance and Leicester current account they had opened a linked savings account for me. This was done without my knowledge or permission. When I had closed the current account they had left the savings account opened but now ‘orphaned’.

I asked to close the savings account but they refused. I was asked to answer some so-called ‘security’ questions which included questions about the mystery savings account. Of course, I couldn’t answer these! They then told me I should have asked to close the savings account at the time I closed the current account. When I asked them how I could have done this since I didn’t know that the savings account even existed they, unsurprisingly, did not answer.

I had a similar experience. I tried to do a transaction with a Santander account but I failed security. After 1/2 on the phone arguing with the bank it was established that very old personal information that A&L had held on me at some point had transferred over to Santander as current security info. The only way I could get anyone to listen was when I remembered my mobile phone number from more than 5 years previous. This was obviously on record from when the A&L account was opened way before the merger with Santander…

Many large retailers operate on mainly part time staff these days and usually on bare minimum wages. As you’ll never see the same person twice and it seems that messages are never passed on to the next shift, demand that everything is sorted out “right now” while you wait.

Why is everything such a fight? I had a Bosch steam generator iron which stopped working. As it wax still under warranty I called Bosch, they asked me to send it to them, they paid the costs. After a few days I enquired and was informed that my iron was faulty and a replacement was on its way. Great. When I received the iron I realised that it was a lot lower spec than my original. I called them again and was told that my model iron was out if stock and should be in in about 5 days. After several phonecalls Bosch eventually agreed that j could use the incorrect replacement iron until mind came through. 5 days later I was informed by Bosch that my iron was ready to be dispatched to me. BUT my iron was still not available they were sending me a different one. This model was also a lower spec model. I said that I wanted an iron with at least the same features mg old one had. The workshop rep then said he would call me later. He didn’t so I called again. I was eventually left an answer phone msg telling me to package up the replacement iron, send it to them and I will receive a refund within 28 days?? I am not happy as my iron is now at least £70 more expensive than I originally paid. I am so annoyed that my inconvenience or wishes have not been taken into consideration in any way. Really not impressed!

Apologies for the typos above. Trying to use a touchscreen phone when tired just really doesn’t work!

G Milleare says:
9 June 2013

I have recently had a problem with SK Comms van sales
In Broardstairs, this company advertised an Astra Van on Auto Trader
To which I replied, SC Comms described the vehicle as very tidy and no rust
When inspecting the van it was obvious that it had rust and a very bad repair to the body
of the van, had the wrong wheels fitted and was more
Like a van that had done 200000 k not the 65000 k as stated.
The problem now is they requested £200 deposit to save the van for 24hrs,
After my inspection I asked for my deposit back as the van was miss described,
I have wasted my time traveling 2 hours to inspect this van and now can’t get them to
Talk to me, very bad and dishonest company, beware of dealings with this company
at your peril

Clive wilson says:
22 June 2013

By the proverbial mile, the worst customer service I have come across in the past 12 months is from BT. Inept, hopeless, couldn’t care-I could go on about them. I’m not even an account holder with BT but their BTFON managed to illegally take £45 from a bank account of ours last Oct and despite letters, calls, emails I stand no chance of getting this back due to most if the people I have contacted being cretins and unwilling to properly assist.
Surely there can’t be a worse customer service section in the UK!

@Clive: Your bank should be able to get your money back for you with a chargeback or Direct Debit reversal.

DMH123 says:
25 June 2013

Here’s a nice little earner from Activision (game developer / manufacturer Call of Duty). They build in value added packs with steelbook cases “hardened Edition” and refined packaging but don’t test if it works. After six months when this case breaks the disk they ask you for more money to replace the disk event though the case they supplied did the damage ! So you end up paying more for the special edition and buying the disc twice. And the customer service is about avoiding admitting any problem and getting you to pay for the replacement.

Customer service 0 Revenue generation 10