/ Shopping, Technology

The high cost of poor customer service

Would poor customer service motivate you enough to switch companies? Or have you switched already? Research commissioned by First Direct shows poor service is costing companies more than they may like…

When their people skills are not up to scratch, consumers like you and I are taking terrible revenge on the companies we deal with in our daily lives.

According to the First Direct research, inadequate service is costing companies £7.7bn a year in lost business.

Broadband, energy and mobile providers are all victims of our consumer power when they fail to reach acceptable standards of customer service, but by far the biggest loser are the banks.

The research says that banks are missing out on £2.3billion from savers switching accounts due to negative experiences. That’s enough money to buy 19,071 Porsches 911’s – the turbo model – which I’m reliably informed is the bankers’ car of choice.

So the message is clear – if you’re not happy with the customer service you receive, change things up. And if you’re a business owner, don’t take your customers for granted.

But switching may not always be an option.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, HMRC was named in the survey as the worst organisation to deal with, 23% of respondents labelling them the most difficult. But that might just be because no-one likes paying their taxes.

In September 2014, we did our own research on calling HMRC and found the average time we had to wait to speak to an adviser was 18 minutes. On one call we had to wait for a lengthy 41 minutes!

What are the complaints?

How do your complaints stack up compared to everyone else’s? Our research in 2013 found the top customer service gripe was automated telephone systems, followed closely by being passed around to a lot of people. We asked you on Which? Convo to see if this matched up, and here are the results:

  • Automated telephone systems (62%, 909 Votes)
  • Long queues (41%, 600 Votes)
  • Being passed around lots of people (35%, 507 Votes)
  • Trying to sell you unwanted products (30%, 435 Votes)
  • Annoying hold music (28%, 406 Votes)
  • Receiving a standard response to problems (22%, 323 Votes)
  • Lack of knowledge about products or services (16%, 240 Votes)
  • Having to wait for help or a response (15%, 218 Votes)
  • Rude staff (13%, 196 Votes)
  • Staff talking to each other (9%, 130 Votes)

Good things come to those who play nice

It’s worth bearing in mind that no matter how annoyed you are it’s always best to remain civil. When airing your grievances the First Direct research shows up to 60% of the deals offered to dissuade you from switching go to those who remain polite.

So if you want those discounted fees and extra freebies – play nice. And if you’re still having trouble with a company, you may find the advice on how to complain on our Consumer Rights website useful.

So, would you switch due to poor service? And what are some of the best and worst examples of customer service you have had?


I have switched energy suppliers and insurers a few times because of bad customer service, never because of price. Once switched, I never go back. I have also stopped using certain shops because I don’t like their manners. In my experience Cooperative Energy was the best energy company in dealing with customer enquiries; I would still be with them now but our new house was already ‘tied’ to E.On so I couldn’t easily transfer on purchase. I have found E.On very good to deal with and I have stuck with them because their tariff is preferable – and I suppose we’ve grown to like each other!

This “£7.7 billion costing companies” might be a bit misleading. The money not spent with one company is likely to be transferred to another, and how much of this simply rotates – a customer lost then one gained from another offending company?

Bad customer service – e.g. rudeness – can be down to an individual’s attitude, so no point in abandoning a cheap deal and cutting off your nose……These businesses and services employ all us individuals; many will be employees or owners of businesses that get complained about. Perhaps we could individually contribute to better service by our own behaviour?

Those who support nationalising other industries might consider the arrogant position adopted by the nationalised tax collector HMRC.

I am going to give praise to Sky customer support. Never thought I would do that.

Having had Sky satellite TV for years, we always dreaded having to deal with their customer support. They were dreadful. It would take forever to speak to someone on a premium rate number then you could never get past 1st line support and speak to someone who could sort you out. It was like banging your head against a brick wall.

But that seems to have changed….

Our o2 broadband was taken over by Sky and we have been having problems. They are not sorted out yet but I will give their customer support full marks for trying. The premium rate phone number has gone, you get to speak to someone fairly quickly and 1st line support now pass you over to technical support.

We recently had a power cut late evening. I rang the UK Power Networks reporting line to find out details. They could not have been more helpful; the chap I talked to took time to find out that a crew was on site, what had happened and then spenttime to find out exactly where the fault was located. And did I want to be kept updated with progress (we have medical equipment with limited battery back-up). Great service.

The next day I had a call from UKPN asking whether everything was OK, were we happy with the previous night’s service, and anything more they could do to help. They gave me a cheaper number to use if phoning from a mobile.

Good service is out there provided by helpful people. I can’t help thinking it’s all about individuals being bothered to do their jobs better – treat others like you would like to be treated – but either enhanced or impaired by a company culture. I think the remedy partly is in the hands of employees to be as helpful as possible to customers. What do they have to lose?

Malcolm B says:
20 January 2015

Sky are on yellow card. Two calls to get a service call, each time the “advisor” pushing us to upgrade our package (which, allegedly, gives us a year’s warranty on the kit including dish. Gave up in the end and upgraded (annoying, since I barely watch it myself) but next hassle it’s goodbye.

M Whelan says:
22 January 2015

My complaint to British Gas was as follows: “From 26/03/14 until29/05/14 we had 10 call outs on Homecare. On the 1st call out the Engineer found some sludge in the system and advised thinking about a power flush. The Power flush was done on the 16/4/14. I paid £600 as the guarantee for a flush done 4 years previously was cancelled as we had changed supplier. On the 16th/4/14 the engineer then said there wasn’t much came out. He also burned out the pump motor as he forgot to switch off the power Since that flush we had 6 call outs up to the 29/05/14. We felt that the system was not functioning properly especially the radiator in the upstairs bathroom(very slow to heat up and not getting to full heat), . On a recent call out (07/12/14 the engineer checked the radiator and said he believed one of the valves was faulty. He came back 2 days later to replace the valve. He took off the radiator and when he replaced it nothing was coming through. He booked a re -flush and the engineer who came to do it was in the house from 0900 hrs until 1800 hrs.When he took the radiator off, and flushed it a lot of debris came out of the radiator. There was still no flow and he discovered that there was a complete blockage in the HEP pipe under the floor. This needed to be replaced by cutting holes in the floor. I have the pipe for evidence if someone wants to see it. That blockage and the amount of sediment in the system did not happen overnight. It is my view that the flush done on 16/4 was not done properly and I would like a refund of the £600 paid in April. I would welcome speaking to a manager about it.”
They answered as follows:
“Your complaint has been received and one of our Customer Service Advisors will contact you within the next 3 working days.

In the meantime if you would like to review our complaints handling procedure please click here or alternatively phone us on 0800 048 0202 and one of our advisors will send you a copy free of charge

Kind regards

Arslan Sharif
Digital Director

I had a phone call from a service Manager who said he didn’t have the mechanism to refund my money. When I mentioned that I had ordered a new boiler I asked if he could discount the amount. He said he would contact the Sales person and he could possibly make a voucher for the £600. He was to meet the Sales person next day. That was on the 23rd Dec 2014. I haven’t heard from him since. I sent an e mail to Customer services 2 days ago and they have still not replied.
Its no wonder they rate poorly in Customer Service

Since joining Vodafone I have had nothing but bad service and I fell that no one working there cares, I have had a manager hang up on me, I have been promised several call back and nothing. When I joined I asked them to transfer my number from 02 this never happened and never once did they call me to explain why, when I called to complain no one would deal with it, I requested information on how they deal with complaints are still haven’t heard anything. Wish I had never moved

why do customers have to put up with their mistakes? when normally a reliable service should be able to sort out their mistakes and be able to work under pressure and for them understand why customers are angry and at the end of the day the customers are the once paying the price not the employees. they are played to take good care of customers. If mistakes are made the employees have the duty of apologising and try and earn the customer’s trust once again.