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Which companies top and tail customer service for you?

Red pencil making cross under smiley face

Our new customer service survey here at Which? shows that while some companies are terrible, others are clearly hitting the right notes. Perhaps it’s time to consider a change?

So, we asked Which? members how they rated customer service for the companies they use in their everyday life. The result? A survey of more than 10,000 people rating 75 big UK brands – from your regular supermarket to your energy providers.

Were there any surprises at the top of the table? Not from the Which? camp. First Direct – the telephone and internet bank – came first, scoring a Which? customer service rating of 89%. John Lewis and Waitrose weren’t far behind.

And what companies flop in the customer service stakes? Well, none of the telecoms providers do amazingly well, but rock bottom is AOL Broadband with an awful rating of 44%. TalkTalk is only just above it, along with major banking chain Santander.

Complain – it pays!

It’s not just the good times that helped the top scoring companies – our top four were all rated five stars out of five for dealing with customer problems. It’s as much about how your complaint is dealt with as it is about not having the need to make one at all.

So if a company’s made a mistake, give it a chance. It might beat expectations and sort out your problem brilliantly. You may even get rewarded in return – one of our survey respondents was sent a £5 voucher from Waitrose due to a late delivery (by only 30 minutes!)

Vote with your feet

This year we’ve been encouraging everyone to vote with their feet and take their business elsewhere if they think they’ve been treated badly by a company.

I know that’s easier said than done. While you can just stop going to an awful shop, it’s more hassle to switch your energy company, bank or broadband provider. And if your supermarket is the only one close to you for miles, it’s almost impossible to shop at another.

Still, if great service is important to you it’s worth considering the switch. Within all the sectors we covered (banks, energy suppliers, mobile providers etc.) there was at least one stand-out company, so there’s definitely somewhere to go if you’re fed up with a certain brand.

Have you suffered any customer service woes that might tempt you to switch? Or maybe a company has wowed you by going that extra mile? Let us know in the comments.


Ironically the company which I have voted with my feet not to shop at again is John Lewis, and yet their grocery operation, Waitrose, is fantastic.
John Lewis (at least in Sheffield) lost my custom almost 20 years ago because their staff were downright rude and did not have any interest in serving, rather they preferred to have their own conversations.
Some 12 years ago I thought I’d give them a try again and did have one very good experience, but then I went to buy a laptop and got the most horrendous rude ness from the staff. Again I turned my back. (I bought my laptop from Novatech who I am pleased to see tops other Which? surveys and tests)
6 years ago I tried again for a dishwasher and again the service was diabolical, so I bouight my dishwasher from the local independent department store, Atkinson’s.
More recently I went to John Lewis for a Kenwood Chef attachment (nothing complex, just a spice mill) and the awful woman didn’t even let me finish what I was asking for before she handed me a card with the name of a local market trader on and said “we don’t do them, try him”. I was furious and demanded that she hear me out and thrust in front of her a print out of JL’s own web page showing not only that they did stock them but that according to the web site they were in stock in Sheffield. She was very off hand but reluctantly agreed to “order” the part. I got a ‘phone call next morning saying it was in – I don’t believe it was ever not in stock.
Interestingly if you talk to staff in Atkinson’s, it’s quite common for them to have been told by other customers that JL were rude or unhelpful and so the customers had gone to Atkinson’s instead.

At the other end of the scale I would rate Waitrose (how ironic!!), Atkinson’s and TLC Direct – a nationwide and on line Electrical retailer, who trade mainly in electrical parts and fittings but also such goods as heaters, fans, cookers, etc. All three of those offer customer service that would not have been out of place 70 years ago in somewhere like Fortnum and Mason.

I wish I understood how Waitrose and JL can be so different from each other – must be like human siblings I guess!

John Lewis’s customer service comes at a price. Most of us either need customer service in helping us to buy a product or when something goes wrong. But if you research your dearer purchases carefully, maybe using some well-known consumer magazine (I can’t imagine WHICH one!) hopefully you won’t need to contact customer services. Better still, you’ll have saved a small fortune not shopping at somewhere like JL. But then, if you want honest advice and all the warranties in the world and don’t mind paying more for this then JL is probably the place for you.

Sophie Gilbert says:
1 December 2010

I shop at John Lewis in Edinburgh regularly and have never had a problem there in the 24 years they have had my custom. Just once I had to complain, but it wasn’t about the shop bit, it was about the state of the cafe on the top floor. When it’s busy they never seem to have their act together and the tables, chairs (!) and floors are extremely dirty, with trays and dirty cutlery strewn about the place. I complained about this in writing and received a letter of apology – but not a voucher for a coffee; they really missed a trick there.

There is a branch of Superdrug on Princes Street I will never set foot in again because staff are extremely rude, especially at the till where they are more interested in carrying on their conversation with their workmates than giving their full attention to their customers.

Finally, the Tesco Express at the top of Leith Walk is very handy for me, but if it weren’t, I would again give it a wide berth because most of the staff are again very rude with one or two notable very cheerful and helpful exceptions. Now I only go to this shop when I’m in a hurry.

Otherwise no real complaints. I guess I’m lucky.

On the 13th October I bought an expensive refurb laptop online from PC World. I had to wait 5 days for it to be delivered and after receipt I checked the contents and found that the Media Remote Control was missing. I phoned them and after a short wait, was put through to a customer service person. She checked the spec and then asked me what I would use a remote control for, with a laptop. I told her. She said one would be sent to me. I went back to checking out the laptop and found out that one of the hard drives was missing! I phoned them up again and this time the conversation took rather longer (20 mins) as a technical person was summoned from the depths. He said that there was one hard drive but it was split into 2 partitions. I said no, look at the specs, 2 separate hard drives. He agreed, put me back to the service person, who said they would collect the laptop the next day and send me another laptop in 3 to 5 working days. It was duly collected the next day.

4 days later Dan phoned from PC World to say that the model was out of stock and was there another laptop I fancied? He said I could have any one I wanted regardless of price. We went through the website together but there was nothing that was suitable. He said that PC World would refund my money asap and that if in the future I ordered a laptop they would give me 10% off.

3 days later the money was back in my account. Two weeks ago, I saw another refurb laptop I fancied, so I ordered it. They delivered it the next day and this time no problems (so far!). Dan phoned me and arranged for the refund to be sent to me. Again I received it in 3 days.

I am very happy with this laptop. It is only 9 months old, in fantastic condition and still on sale new as it is a current model. Buying the refurb has saved me £400 and I have a full 12 months collect and return guarantee plus free technical help.

Well done PC World!

I’ve used John Lewis with no problems – but found I can find the items I want on the Internet far cheaper and easier. Just put the item wanted in the search engine – and a selection is generated.

I buy from Ebay a lot (rather than bid for them) – so far the rate of delivery is superb – the costs low. The only times (twice in 100’s) that there has been a non delivery. A refund was sent to PayPal in a couple of days.

My only internet failure was a company dealing through Amazon – I stress “through” Amazon – because Amazon is also superb and cheap (often cheaper than Ebay) – I complained to Amazon after fruitless e-mails to the company – Amazon removed their right to trade and I had a refund.

I bought an item through Thane Direct – absolutely superb! – delivered within an half hour of estimated time.

My refurbished HP 4 processor Xenon Server – a superb fast piece of kit – was sold at 10% of it’s retail price!! It has integrated with my network superbly. I have tried to buy another (so have a couple of friends) to no avail – the computers on offer are either of inferior spec or at least four times the price. A complete bargain.

Similarly with my four commercial type HP laser printers – retail prices of £1500 to £2500 each – bought on Ebay for around 10 to 15% of Retail Price – Superb duplexing and print speed – quality – and reliability.not to mention condition .I produce a quarterly Newsletter with a large circulation that used to take over 100 hours of printing with 60 hours of constant supervision alone. Composition was another 20 hours. The printing time including collation is now less than 12 hours. The colour quality is superb.and toners easy to obtain/

When I think that my original 4 page a min HP laser cost me £1000 new – I don’t think I’ll buy a new one again.

Interesting how many people find John Lewis over priced too.

I thought that I had noticed this too, but because I so rarely go there and don’t often take the time to check their prices carefully I didn’t comment in my earlier post.

I must say that the laptop I wanted when they were rude was an HP one and I eventually bought it mail order for about 60 pence LESS than the JL price but with next day delivery included in the price. Similarly the dishwasher I wanted (which they didn’t have in stock and it was over ordering it that they were so rude) was considerably cheaper at Atkinson’s than the price that JL were quoting, but of course if they had actually had it in I would have asked them to price match under their “never knowingly undersold” scheme.

Just to emphasise my other earlier point about Waitrose, I did an online shop for quite a bit of stuff for my elderly mother during the snow 10 days ago and Waitrose really do deserve such a huge pat on the back for the lengths that they went to to get this to her, with 2 feet of snow on the road outside and making sure they delivered in daylight because she doesn’t like opening the door after dark. I rang their customer service centre and asked them to make sure the Sheffield branch manager knew how good they’d been. Mindful of this board I also said to the lady that I wished John Lewis were as good and she said that I was not the first person to say that to her. Time to get the Waitrose team to train their siblings at JL!!!!!

Santander Bank,

Have sent Me 3 cash cards & 2 Debit cards, to Bournemouth Bank Branch, When I live in London & Everytime I phone up they say they’re sorting it & Then My last Debit card wnet to Bishop Gate Santander Bank Branch, & Not My flat.

Its annonying to have to keep asking for the cards to be sent to My flat, Luckily My main bank since October 2007 has been HSBC Bank Plc 🙂

Although I still use Santander Bank & Its still not being sorted & Cash & Debit Cards to be delivered to My flat & NOT BOURNEMOUTH Or An London Branch.

Argos never send out Your insurance certificate/s,

Yet they’ll send You an reminder to renew the insurance :/

Tesco Express in London’s Wood Green store sold & displayed over 7 out of date Strawberry Muller Corner Yogurts (Use By Dates Were: 10-11-2010, 11-11-2010, & 18-11-2010,

(Bought On: 24-11-2010)

When I bought them I later asked if the Tesco Express knew what date rotation was, they seemed puzzled & Didn’t seem to care :/

I complained to Tesco CEO, Muller Corner Yogurt HQ, & The local Council Health Department/s,

Only Muller Corner Yogurts have responded by saying very sorry & they will keep an ete on the matter & gave Me £20.00p in Muller Corner Yogurt Vouches which expire in 2012,

Tesco CEO don’t seem to care, Just got an basic reply saying they are looking in to it & that was weeks ago :/

Also no response from the local council haringey, For The Wood Green Tesco Express Store.

http://reynolds1984.multiply.com/journal/item/329 & http://reynolds1984.multiply.com/journal/item/319 & http://reynolds1984.multiply.com/video/item/56

Contrary to some published results – I’ve had to talk to major companies and get services changed etc. recently – my experiences were contrary to the Which report.

Sky – fast, efficient and they went out of their way to get a better deal for me.

Virgin – fast, efficient and they reduced prices for me when I whinged

Nationwide Bld Soc. Brilliant – in fact they offered me a commission free review and assistance, plus free coffee.

Barclays Bank – the most inefficient, incompetent and atrocious company I have ever dealt with (and I bought tech for the NHS)
Barclays Life assurance and Mortgage depts all screwed up and fouled up my mortgage due to poor communication and failure to follow through or – well do anything useful whatsoever.
AVOID at all costs.

Legal & General – Brilliant. Did exactly what they said they were going to do and then informed me they had done it. very impressive.

More Than Insurance – Competent – fast and efficient.

NHS Buckinghamshire – poor, poor, poor and unfortunately very inefficient and I know the chaps and still could not get them to perform their jobs correctly.

John Lewis – adequate, but cold and reluctant to help. In the end it was cheaper to discard and buy a new machine, their branded machines have a short service life – half what a Whirlpool and a Hoptpoint had managed (!)

Tesco – efficient, even if I hate their constant moving of goods and failure to move the signs. I’m a man – I can’t find the **** products – so help me!

Dell – atrocious communication – from a personal PC and as a buyer for NHS purchases.

W.S.Becket says:
2 May 2012

I take strong objection to your claiming Barclays to be the worst (etc) bank. Santander are.

What do people think about when asked about good (or bad) service then?
To me good service means a polite member of staff in a shop or bank, etc., who is knowledgable about the products / services on offer and is not pushy. If what the customer wants has to be ordered or arranged by a colleague, etc., then the member of staff needs to be willing to do this politely and correctly, not display childish temper because they’re having to do something a little bit extra. Shops also need to have sufficient staff to be able to do the above without creating a queue of upset people waiting. In terms of telephone service good service to me means that you get through to a real person very quickly, that the person is, again, polite and efficient and knowledgeable, and that whatever you have asked for / ordered / agreed then is arranged (and where applicable delivered) in a timely fashion.
I worked in retail for about a decade from the mid 80’s to the mid 90’s. I worked for a national chain of model and toy shops which was renowned for it’s service but equally well known for paying the staff peanuts and expecting them to behave like they were on millions. We all did it (in fact we’d have lost out jobs if we had not) and that was before the minimum wage, so I can safely say that staff in shops and banks, etc., now are being paid far more than we ever were and almost certainly getting training that we never got, so why can’t they all get these basics right?
I’m afraid my own experience in the retail trade means that I am extremely intolerant of shops, etc., who cannot get these basics right.
Looking at others’ responses and also looking at the survey results I wonder though if all respondants judge against the same things? Are we on a level playing field here?

Jeff says:
16 January 2011

John Lewis – Office desk with glass top
Please make up your own story -it cant be worse than the real one !

W.S.Becket says:
23 February 2011

For blatant bad manners and customer-contempt, SANTANDER must be the worst. I wouldn’t advise my worst enemy to bak with them.

Sarah says:
7 November 2011

Santander has to be the worst, I was in their looking at saving/high interest accounts – while talking to the personal finance advisor about investing she tried to sell me a loan…when i asked her, if i needed a loan why would I be looking at high worth savings accounts she was dumbfounded.

Totally ridiculous

barry b says:
11 April 2012

Maplin Electronics.Has a 2 tier returns policy.Several items will not be excepted back for refund or credit.You are not informed this at the point of sale OR mentioned in there catalogue or website.So if you buy something like a lightbulb?you get get it home and its wrong.Tough.

Ex Customer says:
8 September 2012

I never thought that Waitrose would be absolutely terrible. I USED to shop quite frequently at the Brent Cross store but have recently been followed around the store by the less than bright security guard. When I did complain, the manager basically called me a thief. When I complained to their head office, I was told it was my fault for going into the store and making eye contact (as opposed to looking away or down at the ground). Shocking customer service from an otherwise well respected brand.