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Is Britain’s customer service going down hill?

Angry customer service man

I’ve previously said tipping should be performance related, with good service being rewarded. Yet, our survey insinuates that rewards may not be deserved, as we think Britain’s customer service isn’t up to scratch.

Almost half of the respondents to our recent survey didn’t think the standard of customer service in Britain was getting better, while 50% believed that in the current climate it’s inevitable companies will cut corners on customer service to save money.

In a week where we’ve seen the demise of Moben, Habitat and Dolphin, it would appear that customer service is more important than ever. Indeed, 39% of people in our survey said they’d be prepared to pay more for better service.

Poor customer service must end

The attitude that tough times means cutting back on customer service has got to stop. Indeed, two thirds of those asked said they don’t want poorer service even if it brings a saving.

I witnessed a great example of the effects of poor service this week. My wife was trying to upgrade her mobile phone with a major provider. She was passed from one ‘service adviser’ to another and her problem was never resolved. Eventually, she became so frustrated that she cancelled her contract and switched to another provider.

But the story didn’t end there. She wasn’t refunded when she said she was leaving, her contract wasn’t cancelled on time and another direct debit was taken from her account. Sadly, stories from Which? members suggest she’s not alone. There are an army of people being poorly served across a whole variety of industries – from personal finance to utility companies.

Fight for better customer service

Thankfully, there is a solution – vote with your feet. The only way to fight the ever-growing poor service culture is to stop encouraging it. So, if you’re not happy with your bank account, for example, switch to a Which? Recommended Provider. If you can’t get a straight answer out of your utility provider, switch.

And if a shop assistant is more interested in selling you an extended warranty than a washing machine, walk away. We have the power to fight back.

Or perhaps I’m being too harsh? Are there still pockets of great customer service out there? And if there are, let’s find them, publicise them and let others learn from their examples.


Seems a bit ‘broad’ to comment sensibly.

But many sectors, especially those engaged in hard selling or defending bad contracts/T&C practices (ie; telecoms) are utterly dire.


I think it’s hit and miss.

Personally, I get good customer service if the call centre is based in Yorkshire.

I get bad customer service if it’s based in Scotland/North East/Off-Shore.

I think it’s definitely a cultural thing, Yorkshire folk have always been great with me (lived there for 7 years) and when they are on the phone the other end, they empathise and put themselves in your shoes immediately. They don’t want you to spend too much money (another Yorkshire trait) and they think inside your box instead of outside theirs.

I recently spoke to a lovely woman from “Wakey” at Nationwide, an absolutely first class service from someone who really appeared to care.

Sophie Gilbert says:
5 July 2011

That’s exactly what I do, I vote with my feet. There are one or two shop in Edinburgh I don’t set foot in because the shop assistants/till operators couldn’t care less, plus one restaurant with racist waiting staff, one coffee shop with permanently dirty tables, chairs and floors, and one with a permanently dirty toilet (cleaning all that up is part of customer service as far as I’m concerned, if not b****y essential). And I tell everyone who cares to listen who they are.

At other times it’s more difficult if you get rubbish and very good service from the same company. Virgin’s call centres has been fantastic (one help assistant happened to be Indian and the other one Scottish) when I’ve needed help with my modem and my new computer, but absolute garbage with my telephone service (English staff at the call centre). It’s only when I eventually threatened in writing to switch provider that they (re)acted. I advise a friend of mine to dot he same with BT, who was messing her about, and it worked!

Having mentioned Indian, Scottish and English in the paragraph, my experience with nationalities, regionalities and the likes is that more often than not, generally speaking, it’s down to the company and especially the managerial style whether you get food service or not.


I think the photo is starting to disturb me 🙂


Hi Dean, it is a bit intense isn’t it. Just don’t look into his eyes.

Sue Shaw says:
5 July 2011

Customer service in Britain is very poor and we put up with it. Today’s culture of ‘couldn’t care less as long as I’m alright’ doesn’t help. A smile and a civil manner goes a long way but unfortunately these days this does not come naturally to a lot of people so when their job entails having to deal with customers they have to be taught how to behave. Unfortunately a lot of companies do not do this. I do not tip anymore if the service is bad or I walk away and never go back but when I do get good customer care, it is out there, I tip well or the company keeps my custom.

Ken says:
5 July 2011

I recently purchased goods online from Maplin. After assembling and testing I discovered that the hard disc in the unit would not boot up. I telephoned the customer service department and explained the fault. They contacted the technical department who agreed that it was faulty and recommended the item be returned.
It was picked up before 5pm that day, and after following the telephone return confirmation proceedure an exchange unit was despatched, and arrived two days later.
This is how it should work. Other retailers please take note. Maplin Electronics is now my online retailer of choice.!! I always dump the bad guys.

keith hodges says:
5 July 2011

I always tell companies when they are bad! they don’t call me grumpy for nothing!

In terms of customer service dept’s – I have a hit list of companies that don’t deserve my support – even if they offer the best price.

Full marks in my mind to British Gas, they have improved incredibly recently and I am now happy to use them again.. John Lewis is a model company that heads the list and most businesses would do well to copy them!

john.mccolgan says:
5 July 2011

My worst ever experience of customer care was from the Sony Corporation. I purchased a top line VAIO one piece computer with wireless keyboard and mouse. After a few months of domestic use, the lettering on the keyboard began to wear away. After calling the telephone support call centre for Sony VAIO computers i was told that this was not a fault and was considered to be fair wear and tear. Numerous calls later after urging them to escalate the complaint I was advised they would not replace the keyboard and suggested that to prevent further deterioration of the keys i should follow this advise.
2. LEARN TO TOUCH TYPE so that I don’t have to look at the keys
It took the intervention of a newspaper and the Sony PR department to Sony to reconsider their decision and replace my keyboard.
The most shocking part of the whole process was the aloof and indifferent attitude from the Sony call centre. I will NEVER knowingly buy a Sony product again