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The top five things you hate most about customer service

What winds you up about your interactions with everyday brands?

a male customer services representative on the phone to a customer

Whether you’re buying new gadgets, planning a holiday or managing your finances, everyone has to deal with customer service from time to time. An outstanding experience can persuade you to keep returning to a brand; being treated badly can put you off for life.

We asked thousands of shoppers to tell us what infuriates them most about customer service, plus the things they value in a positive experience, to discover the secrets behind the brands getting it right. Our research revealed a number of common likes and gripes, and found that what winds you up the most about customer service varies by age and where in the UK you live.

Read on to see the top five customer service bugbears and find out how social media is changing the way we interact with brands.

Then, read the results of our survey of the best and worst big brands for customer service, as rated by those who use them.

woman on the phone who is angry

The top five customer service irritations

1. International call centres (46%)

Nearly half of the 3,690 people we surveyed told us that non-UK call centres are one of the thing that annoys them most about customer service.

Those aged over 45 were more likely to be wound up by this. Around half of those aged over 54 voted non-UK call centres a big irritation, while just a quarter of 25-34 year olds find them annoying.

2. Automated telephone systems (38%)

Having to select from pre-recorded menus on the phone is the next biggest customer service gripe, winding up more than a third of the people we spoke to. It also bothers older customers more than younger ones.

3. Being passed around lots of different people (34%)

One energy company customer told us: ‘I spoke to approximately 10 different people who told me different things.’

4. Rude staff (29%)

Younger people are more likely to find rude staff annoying when dealing with a brand. Four in ten (38%) of those aged 25-34 voted rude staff among their top irritations, compared with 24% of 65-74 year olds.

A third (34%) of women say rude staff are one of their top irritations, compared with only a quarter (23%) of men.

5. Staff being too busy talking to each other (28%)

One bank customer said: ‘Sometimes staff are abrupt or rude and can talk down to you.’ While a high street clothing store shopper told us: ‘Staff seem demotivated and disinterested in helping customers.’

Queuing

How do you feel about waiting around in queues? Our survey revealed that your answer could be different depending on where you live. Long queues are more of a frustration for customers in Wales and England than those in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

They’re one of the biggest irritations for 29% in Wales and 25% in England. But just 21% of respondents in Northern Ireland and 18% in Scotland find them frustrating.

If you’re tired of waiting in long supermarket queues, read our guide to learn the secrets of savvy queuing.

What makes great customer service?

According to Dr Jeff Bray, lecturer in retail consumer behaviour at Bournemouth University, the key to a positive customer service experience is a ‘personalised, tailored response’. It’s no wonder, then, that many of the things you appreciate most revolve around responsible, knowledgeable staff who resolve your problems efficiently.

Twitter, Facebook and digital customer service

The rise of digital and social media in customer service is a ‘fundamental shift’, Dr Bray explains. Permanently manned Twitter accounts, in particular, are changing our expectations. On social media ‘we expect someone to be at the other end and to get a response within half an hour, 24/7,’ he says.

A third of people we spoke to mainly used online channels to interact with brands in the past year. But this varies by sector. A tenth (10%) mainly deal with their supermarket online, compared with three quarters (74%) for holiday or travel companies.

‘The challenge for brands is that it’s all public and there’s a clear commercial imperative to respond in a timely manner,’ Dr Bray said. There’s ‘opportunity for companies to win customer advocacy through solving a problem in a successful and proactive way’, but there are also ‘some of the biggest brands out there who are utterly inept’. Any failings are there for all to see.

Despite the rise of customer service on social media, traditional channels, such as telephone and email still have a big part to play. You’re most likely to interact with your energy firm, bank and travel company on its website, but you’ll probably pick up the phone to your telecoms provider or car maintenance firm. Despite online shopping, going in-person to supermarkets and other retailers is still most common.

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