Anger Management

What has happened to the renowned customer service us Brits were used to - in past times, the envy of the world?

We seem to be in a constant spiral to the bottom with just about every company out there. I surveyed a good cross section of people, asking them about their experiences and which companies are winning and which are failing. The results were remarkably similar – but more of that later.

No matter how many complaints they receive, the impression is that they don’t give a damn.

Take Virgin Media – one of the most complained about broadband and phone suppliers out there in terms of customer service. A Virgin spokesman stated that this was due to the fact that Ofcom had launched an investigation and that spurred customers on to complain. This, of course, totally ignores the fact that the investigation was launched due to the number of complaints. Double speak at its worst! O2 was second in the shame list.

An insider told me that they don’t care due to ‘customer churn’. This means that for every 100 customers Virgin lose, they gain 100 customers that are hacked off at O2 and visa versa. They are very good at marketing speak though, as Virgin said: ‘Our number-one priority is to provide an excellent service to our customers, and we accept that the rise in complaints in the third quarter falls far short of our expectations.’

If they were that bloody concerned, they would have fixed the problem that has been running for the best part of ten years. They just don’t care.

Take Ovo Energy, an awful company l have personal, miserable, experience of. When l moved into a new house, they sent me a bill despite not having any contract with them, and my account being with Octopus Energy. I sat on the phone for an hour waiting to tell them they have made a mistake and they couldn’t give a damn. They, in turn, insisted that l must pay the bill, despite the fact I have no contract with them. After three months of arguing and copious amount of proof, they sent a debt collector’s letter and marked the lack of payment onto my credit record. I lost it and threatened to sue them. I then sent a letter of complaint to every email address l could find. Zero response. Only when l declared that l publish the largest circulation business magazine in the UK, did they reverse the charge, and reverse the credit black mark. No apology, no explanation.

Imagine if this were a retired couple, a single old person or a neurodiverse person - they could be threatened into paying it, thinking they had forgotten they signed the contract. I bet they get away with this con more often than not and, in my opinion, this is criminal.

The awful Ovo Energy is not even the most complained-about energy company, as that title goes to British Gas. In a Which? survey, 47% of Ovo customers stated they were dissatisfied. That’s half of all their customers. l don’t know about you but if half my clients were unhappy, l would be out of business and too embarrassed to show my face around town again.

These league tables are based on customers contacting Ofcom. l would venture that over 90% of such complaints don’t make it to the regulator, thereby making the hacked off customer rate massive, but uncounted. There’s the ‘customer churn’.

In my small survey, only one company was not mentioned, only one company appears to do what they say and take customer service really seriously – Amazon.

They deliver what they say they will, they refund rapidly if something goes wrong, and the guarantee is an actual, honoured guarantee. Whilst the other multi-billionaires try to escape Earth to set up shop on another planet (Musk), or fail to rein in hate speech and porn that is seriously affecting our children (Zuckerberg), Jeff Bezos seems to take customer service seriously and constantly delivers (excuse the pun).

New research estimates that poor customer service is costing UK businesses £11.4 billion a month. According to the UK Institute of Customer Service (ICS), consumer trust has become a priceless commodity during economic instability, and it need not require crippling investment to earn it. “Outstanding service comes down to attention to detail, proper training and a friendly, personalised approach,” says ICS Chief Executive Jo Causon. “This requires responsiveness, empathy and understanding, which isn’t just about process, but genuine engagement.”

It is estimated to cost five times more to attract new customers with marketing initiatives than to retain existing ones, and firms with higher-than-average customer service ratings earn 114% more revenue per employee, ICS figures show.

And customer service bots – DON’T get me started or this computer will go out the window in blind fury.


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