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Bad service? Oh well, never mind...

21st Apr 2006
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  • Read also: UK customers fed up with bad customer service

    UK customers are hacked off with bad customer service. Oh and Queen Anne is dead, the Pope is Catholic and bears do defectate in arborial environments.

    It is tempting to argue that the conclusions of RightNow's survey into UK attitudes to customer service are really a statement of the obvious. But there are some interesting implications from the findings.

    For example, the listing of the top frustrations in dealing with call centres: being put on hold for a long time, automated voice response that does not include the option you need, inconsistent / inaccurate information, automated menus that seem to travel in circles, call centre representatives that cannot help you, having to repeat account information to representatives, too many touch tone menu choices to remember and the inevitable being transferred to someone else.

    I've had similar experiences myself this week. AOL, which is taking two payments from me from a duplicate account which they admit is a mistake, passed me around 3 Indian call centre operatives before refusing to do anything about the problem this week. Morgan Stanley's call centre people have had a good time phoning me up about a credit card statement that didn't arrive until this morning - four days after they started pestering me about it. And on and on and on...

    After so many years of writing about CRM and customer management, I am still flabbergasted by the sheer level of incompotence of organisations in their call centre strategies. At a roundtable organised by MIS magazine this week, attendees commented that one of the problems leading to this situation was that various components of CRM are tackled individually rather than as a complete business model challenge.

    Personally, I think that while that is undoubtedly a valid argument there is a far simpler one. Most call centre strategies are based around cutting costs and coming up with the economical model for handling contact with those irritating creatures - the customers. They are not based around enabling better customer interaction, but cheaper customer interaction.

    This is clearly a false economy. Slashing costs means slashing service to my mind. Winning back business is costly exercise. Once I'm finally free of AOL taking money off me that they're not entitled to, I'll be washing my hands of them forever and a day. It'd cost them a lot of marketing effort to get me interested again.

    UK consumers can vote with their business to tackle the problem of poor customer service - it's just that we sort of generally don't. Have we really become so browbeaten that we just accept poor service as a fact of life? Americans wouldn't, why do we? I expect to be treated appallingly when I call a call centre. I am rarely disappointed. In its own right, that's incredibly disappointing...

    Click the 'Add your own comment' below to share your thoughts and opinions.

    Stuart Lauchlan
    News & Analysis Editor
    [email protected]

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    Further reading

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  • From call centre to contact centre

  • The Insider's Guide to Customer Service Knowledge Bases

  • White Paper: Achieving customer service excellence with streamlined service resolution management

  • Excellent Customer Service - Start by Recruiting the Right Staff. A BP case study

  • The A – Z of Good Practices for Customer Service

  • UK leads Europe in customer service

  • Customer Experience – The Voice of the Customer

  • Customer experience has little to do with customer service

  • How To Create A Great Customer Experience

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    Replies (6)

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    By sonanka
    21st Apr 2006 12:26

    I must admit, up until reading this article I was beginning to feel slightly paranoid. The reason, well virtually all servcie experiences as I have of late have been bad, I mean very bad.

    So I was starting to think it is either I am getting old, less patient, more picky etc, etc or someone has forwarded my details to all major companies to say treat this customer to service bordering on contempt and with virtually no attempt to assist with her query.

    Comforting to know it isnt just me.

    The examples of late in short:

    Royal Mail. Who advised me three times of a service they were'nt actually set up to deliver. The calls necessary between sorting office, post office, service line and customer service line. The ability to take 14 days to set up a re-direction. The loss of two packages, one bank card and a delay of nearly five weeks to react to post watch.

    Their reply sorry, we will try to do better.

    Scottish Power. Phoned on the date of entry to new house with meter readings, details etc. This week a letter through the door threatening to break in and cut off our power. Please phone this number to wait for a least 15 minutes. Then find person cannot help, please phone tomorrow to wait for another 15 minutes to be told wrong number as I do not pre-pay so phone another number to wait 20 minutes.... you get the picture!

    Anyway after 4 days and 7 phone calls approximately 2 hours of wait and call time, 7 different operatives and 3 months after we moved in, they finally have up dated my details!

    Am I expecting too much?

    Thanks (0)
    By ireneclark
    21st Apr 2006 12:28

    Couldn't agree more with your article. However, it isn't just call centres..go into a bank and all they try and do is sell you something after you've queued for ages, ask for a decent meal for your kids in a restaurant and you get told not it's chicken nuggets or nothing, ask someone to turn the music down in a coffee shop and you're told they can't because the manager likes it loud! The list is endless. The customer does seem to be at the end of some cost cutting queue!

    Irene Clark

    Thanks (0)
    By malcolmwicks
    21st Apr 2006 19:52

    This bad customer service strategy all started from a brainstorming session to come up with ideas to cut congestion on the roads. All sorts of wild ideas came up but then out of nowhere came the big idea. Get people to spend more time on the phone so that they won’t be able to drive so much. Of course the whole thing was kept secret and big businesses needed some incentive to help keep people on the phone longer. As soon as they found out about premium rate call charges they were sold. A lot of effort was then put into discovering what could be done to keep callers on the line longest. Many different things were tried from employing semi literate people on poor telephone lines on the other side of the world to only offering push button options that no one wanted. A great deal of fun was had working out just how far people could pushed into staying on the phone longer. Some companies favoured the “you’ll have to phone a different number” approach whilst other preferred playing the noise of tapping keyboards to customers whilst operators went for a coffee. Some did both.

    At the “Who can keep customers on the line longest awards” the man who invented a random number generator to come up with a number that fitted into the phrase “you are number [***] in a queue” did well. Of course as usual the biggest award went to the person who thought up the phrase “Your call is important to us”. Everyone always laughs at that one. This year he came out with “your call is really, really, really important to us – honest”. Hoots of laughter.

    Reading Stuart’s article just underlines how successful this whole programme has been. If it hadn’t have been for this programme congestion would have brought the country to a standstill. Of course a number of adjustments will have to be made such getting government to ban mobile phones from cars. But I’m sure that won’t be a problem.


    Thanks (0)
    By kevin.sullivan
    21st Apr 2006 12:59

    Love the article and the topic. We all want to walk away from companies that treat us this way.... but unfortunately.. most companies know that we will put up with a lot of abuse because its just too hard to go through the process of moving. Or maybe it isn't but most of us just can't be bothered or maybe we just enjoy a goo battle from time to time ?

    Capital One spent 5 years bombarding me with marketing literature. I finally gave in 2 years ago.... I've never had so many problems with a Fin Svcs company.

    First they gave me a credit limit that was completely useless to anyone who travels on business and refused to match my old card credit limit even though the whole point of moving to them was to replace their competitor. So I kept the old card. They gave me no choice.

    That was marketing money well spent... NOT.

    However I'm glad I did because I've needed it.... Its my main card again. 5 years of marketing WASTED all thanks to Customer Service in-competence.

    Recent events include.. Them deciding with no consultation with me, that I qualified for the new Platinum Plus card. V nice. So they sent them out to me although I had no idea this was happening nor did I request them. At the same time I tried to change my PIN on the existing card. Not possible. Card being rejected. Multiple calls to Call Centre, each time having to type in card number details then listening to computer voices read out my balance and last transaction... none of which I am interested in... finally a real voice. I spent a good 15 minutes trying to explain the problem. Total cross purposes. The person doesnt understand me and I dont understand them. I hang up and call back. Go through the same process. . Sorry say Capitol One... New cards are on their way so your old cards have been frozen. What new cards? I ask. They explain. But my existing card is fine. Tough.... .new ones should have been with you last week. Since you havent got them yet we are cancelling your existing and the 'lost in the post' cards and sending you new ones. So now I have no card at all ? Yes.. sorry... tough cookie.. we dont care at all. Nothing you can do about it... but we're sorry.
    So let me get this right.. Capitol One caused this problem and yet I'm being punished. Is there anyone I can talk to about this. No.
    Is there anyone who could call me to explain this policy. No.

    Then, last week on hols abroad. Card refused at resturaunt. Called helpine. 25 mins later .. was told tough cookie.. our system is down. Cant help. Real sorry. Can someone call me ASAP. Sorry no. Not possible to call out. In bound only. Err... I'm now stranded N America with a dead card and bills to pay... can someone please contact me to help sort out my options. No. Nobody can or will. No level of customer service person in Capitol One is allowed to call out. Can I give you my details. No , the system is down. Can't you write them on a pen and paper and call me back when the system is up. No... not allowed to call our customers due to security implications. The sytem doesnt allow it. Then can I call someone. No point. Our systems are down nobody can help you. And so it went on. Sorry sir... we totally understand your problem but ther is nothing we can do about it...

    OR as you imply in your article..


    I must cancel the card sometime.... I will.... soon... promise....

    Thanks (0)
    Dr. Graham Hill
    By Dr. Graham Hill
    25th Apr 2006 10:36


    Your suggestion that customers do not vote with their feet is just plain wrong.

    There have been plenty of reports and studies that show without doubt that customers who get duff service, do complain to the companies concerned, do tell others about the duff service (Stuart has in public on a number of occasions) and do defect to other companies. See Susan Keaveney's work on "Customer Switching Behavior in Service Industries: An Exploratory Study" published in the Journal of Marketing in 1995 for an old example.

    There are also plenty of studies that show that the same customers will punish companies providing duff service for their "unfairness" given half a chance.

    The majority of customers faced with duff service may not immediately defect, but duff service DOES have a big impact on the longer-term top & bottom-lines. Of that there is no doubt.

    Bad service is bad business. Full stop.

    Graham Hill
    Independent Management Consultant

    Thanks (0)
    By jakub_bielikowski
    24th Apr 2006 08:35

    Interesting to read the article and comments that follows. The conclusion is extremely simple. Companies are doing the right thing. Why to waste money on customer service when no-one (customer) cares? Especially if we can squeeze few quid from premium-rate phone calls.

    Are we voting with our feet for better service? - No. So we shall not complain. I never heard of someone switching the supplier (bank, utility, whatever) because of bad service. Never done it myself. I have heard of people doing that to save money, but service? Icing on the cake.

    So why corporates pay lip service to improving customer service? Because we - investors, analysts, consultants expect them to do so. So companiess will continue to throw some money on CRM projects, if separate applications that require costly integrations, even better, but nothing else.

    Policy validated - cost cut, Indians get their outsourcing deals, marketing up, consultants don't bother management about CRM as they get their share, shareholders happy, customers don't care. All parties satisfied. QED

    Thanks (0)