Customer Service? Not Something We Need to Think About

Last Updated Aug 26, 2009 10:41 AM EDT

Customer service is a concept that in the UK, we are still getting to grips with. But as customers, it's something that we are learning to demand more. However good it gets though, some companies we deal with are never likely to give good customer service, because they don't have to.

Here's a list of industries, which don't care, because they know you'll keep coming back. This list is for B2C companies. I will compose one for B2B companies in good time.

  • Rail travel is expensive and uncomfortable at the best of times. At worst it's extremely unreliable too. While there are a number of franchises, there's no competition on any one journey, so if you don't like it, you can't choose another rail operator to travel from London to Oxford. That's part of the problem. As a service, the rail network has been broken up into so many different parts and no one feels any responsibility for the whole service.
  • Air travel. If rail travel was cheaper and more reliable, domestic airlines would be out of business. Some airlines are actually scrupulous about their customer relationships, BA for instance. But none of them have control over your experience of air travel from A to B. The hours of queuing and the undignified security checks make air travel as time consuming as rail, but you don't get the leg room. Again, it's the multiplicity of organisations - airlines, airports, traffic control and security that combine to giving you a lousy experience. But if you want to travel across the globe without taking weeks to do it, you have to endure the airport.
  • Phone services, especially mobile phone services. Once you are locked in to a contract lasting up to 18 months, you're trapped. I was once at a friend's home when they had their phone and broadband inexplicably cut off. They got nowhere with the inaptly named customer services centre, even though they explained that they were an elderly couple living in rural Somerset and communications with the outside world was pretty crucial. It was only when I suggested they call the CEO's PA, they started to get some help. Trying to get the relevant codes to switch your number to another service provider is also Herculean task, even though they are mandated by the regulator to make this a simple process.
  • Property. Buying a house in the UK is said to be one of the most stressful experiences of your life. The actual moving is pretty daunting, but that's only after you've run the gauntlet of estate agents, surveyors and solicitors. Each has their own special disservice. Estate agents aren't famous for their honesty. They tend to overhype the property they are showing you and understate the little problems like structural damage or ASBO neighbours. Surveyors work at their convenience. They take a ten-minute stroll around the property and then charge you £350. Solicitors need chasing all the time, but like the other two, it's nigh on impossible to find check out and conveyance a property without them.
  • Postal services. Is anyone really surprised why Royal Mail is going down the tubes? Post offices are dismal places to have to spend time in, which is probably why the staff behind the counter are so unhelpful. The postal service is pretty efficient, when it works, but if your mail is lost, forget it. Parcel deliveries are also working at their own convenience. It's not just the RM which gives poor service. Private firms are just as bad. I once had to revisit a depot miles from my home four times before I was united with my parcel.
Have I been fair? Are there any organisations or industries you'd like to add to the list? Post a comment below.

(Pic: PDAgrl cc2.0)