BT and British Gas in a league of their own for bad customer service

21st Nov 2007

A survey of consumer attitudes to contact centre service and technologies has found the telecoms and TV provider sectors perform worst, with three companies, BT, Sky and Virgin Media in the bottom five - and British Gas is keeping its end up with an ongoing appalling track record.

The survey of 1,000 UK adults undertaken by independent ICM Research also found contact centres located offshore are a concern, as well as companies' growing reliance on new voice recognition and touchtone, call-waiting and routing technologies. The survey asked respondents about the level of service received from a range of companies operating in different sectors, including finance or banking, cinemas and mobile phone or utility companies.

BT's customer service came in bottom of all companies in the survey, with customers complaining of language difficulties with offshore operators, problems with automated technology causing long waiting times and being transferred from one department to another with problems remaining unresolved.

The survey also revealed that over half of phone calls to customer support lines had significant waiting times, with 38 percent claiming that the length of the wait was highly unsatisfactory.

Respondents reported that at least 55 percent of calls resulted in significant waiting times before they were able to speak to an operator across all sectors. And 38 percent of callers to banks and financial institutions said the wait was "highly unsatisfactory", where 78 percent of callers to companies in this sector were asked to select options by choosing numbers on their phones from a menu.

Voice recognition systems also come under fire. Respondents with regional accents complained that voice recognition technologies result in misheard options, and automatic call routing often failed to offer the desired options.

British Gas was found to be the worst of the utility companies, coming third in the top five worst overall performer. Watchdog Energywatch says that it currently receives seven times more gripes about British Gas than some of its rivals while the latest annual customer service survey by the internet comparison website uSwitch concluded that British Gas's customer service record was the worst in the industry.

British Gas on the other hand reckons it's doing better. It said that it has invested an additional £60 million in customer service this year and that between April and August monthly complaints fell by nearly 60 percent to their lowest level since 2006. "Our customers are telling us they like the new system we've introduced and our complaints have fallen by more than a third. We've also increased our frontline customer service team by almost 25 percent,” said a spokesman.

Energywatch's Graham Kerr is not convinced. "Despite signs of improvement by British Gas over the summer, the company is still in a league of its own when it comes to providing poor customer service,” he said.

Overall, the track record of telcos and utilities firms remains shockingly bad. "Poor customer service has plagued the energy industry for years, but consumers have successfully forced the issue with suppliers by making it clear that they won't pay first-rate money for a second-rate service,” said Ann Robinson, uSwitch's director of consumer policy. “As a result, consumer concerns seem to be getting more air time in suppliers' boardrooms and service levels are finally heading in the right direction."


Replies (2)

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By Jeremy Cox
22nd Nov 2007 16:41

Yesterday I tried to get hold of BT Vision service department. The only phone number on their website was the sales department, which I duly rang. They answered within 2 seconds very cheerfully asking me if I'd like to place an order.

I explained that Id signed up for the BT Vision package and was told an engineer would come round to install on the Monday. No engineer turned up and no one rang to inform me.

Sales department put me through to the service department telephone which took 25 minutes before it was answered.I heard 'your call is in a queue and will be answered shortly.

50 such messages later and a rather surly individual who couldn't care less told me it was a self service product and then hung up!

Same routine but this time to a more helpful individual who didn't hang up.

I opened the package of kit that BT had sent me and sure enough it wasn't too complicated.

Good technology - lousy service and the fact that the only telephone number is for sales, speaks volumes for BT's priorities.

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By BrianQ
14th Oct 2008 10:03

So, having switched energy suppliers from EDF to Scottish Power in September, I get my final bill from EDF who are charging me £27 for my final 9 days of gas usage with them. This is based on an "Actual" final meter reading of 3389 on 8th September.

Funny, I thought, and I went outside yesterday (13th Oct) and found the meter was at 3385. I took a photograph of it alongside a newpaper of that day as proof that something someone was fibbing.

I phoned them, and was told that nothing could be done because Transco had supplied the reading, (Strange, isn't it, how it is always somebodyelse's fault?), and that they can only alter a meter reading after an account is closed if the difference is more than 100 units. She explained that as Transco had recently taken a reading (showing that the previous month I had used 2 units), they had "estimated" my reading based on "past usage".

I asked to speak to "the supervisor", and she explained that nothing could be done. I persisted, threatening to make a complaint to Offgas, and she offered me a £27 cheque which is now on its way to me. Shame that they cannot change the meter reading - I start with my new provider on a reading that is higher than it should be. Shame.

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