Why do we put up with such poor service?

6 November 2014
Perhaps it's because Brits don’t like to make a fuss but it seems to me that we too readily put up with poor customer service.
I’ve recently had two run-ins with big companies over customer call-outs. Last month, our American-style fridge/freezer needed replacements for two cracked door shelves. The water/ice dispenser also wasn’t working and we needed a new air filter. Fortunately, we have appliance insurance through Domestic & General (D&G) – though it’s not cheap at around £80 a year.
My husband phoned the number on the agreement document and was told he needed to ring another number. He was passed from pillar to post and, eight phone calls later, including being asked to phone the original number, he finally booked an appointment for the following week  – with a visit arranged from 7am to 5pm.
The engineer duly turned up with the new shelves and filter. When my husband asked for help fitting the filter, the engineer said he was just authorised to supply it, but not to fit it. He agreed to watch him fix it in place – he even gave it a little push when my husband was struggling to position it.
When it came to the water/ice dispenser, he said it wasn't mentioned on his job sheet so he couldn’t check it and we’d have to make another appointment – even though this would involve D&G in the expense of another engineer’s visit and the inconvenience to us of waiting in all day again.
My next gripe is with British Gas. Its quirky animated ad gives the impression that the customer is king but this certainly wasn’t the case when I recently tried to book my annual boiler service, which is provided free as part of my Homecare agreement at a cost of £311 this year.
On the positive side, someone from British Gas did phone me up to remind me that the annual service was due and suggested a date for the engineer to visit. But this involved waiting in for six hours. When I complained that British Gas didn’t make any allowance for the fact that customers had to go to work, he said that if I went online I could book a two-hour slot and that weekends were also available.
I duly went on the British Gas website to book my appointment and clicked on the calendar – only to find that Saturdays and Sundays were not offered after all and the only slot was in 25 minutes’ time!
I rang up British Gas again and asked how I could book a two-hour slot if none were displayed online. The customer services assistant double-checked and confirmed that the only appointment was for that afternoon or otherwise there was nothing available for two months. He said that, as two-hour slots were only offered online, I would have to book a six-hour engineer’s visit in eight weeks’ time.
Exasperated by this, I decided to ring back the next day. This time I got through to someone more helpful who immediately offered me a two-hour slot in two weeks’ time. So three phone calls – and three very different responses from the team at British Gas.
But what really irks me is how companies still expect customers to wait in for hours. Given that 73% of the UK population are in employment, it’s time that service companies recognised this and were more flexible in their approach to home call-outs.